Movie and TV Reviews

Reviews for New Movies Releasing July 2 – August 27, 2021

The 8th Night (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
Ailey (Photo courtesy of Neon)
Black Widow (Photo by Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)
The Boss Baby: Family Business (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)
CODA (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)
Die in a Gunfight (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
El Cuartito (Photo courtesy of Wiesner Distribution)
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)
First Date (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
The Forever Purge (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
The God Committee (Photo by Matt Sakatani Roe/Vertical Entertainment)
The Green Knight (Photo courtesy of A24)
How It Ends (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)
Jungle Cruise (Photo by Frank Masi/Disney Enterprises, Inc.)
Kid Candidate (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)
Love Type D (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Mama Weed (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)
Old (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Photo courtesy of CNN/Focus Features)
Settlers (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Skydance)
Stillwater (Photo by Jessica Forde/Focus Features)
The Suicide Squad (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Sweet Thing (Photo by Lasse Tolboll/Film Movement)
Under the Volcano (Photo by Martyn Goddard/Universal Pictures Content Group)

Complete List of Reviews

1BR — horror

2/1 — drama

2 Graves in the Desert — drama

2 Hearts — drama

2 Minutes of Fame — comedy

5 Years Apart — comedy

7 Days (2021) — comedy

8 Billion Angels — documentary

The 8th Night — horror

9to5: The Story of a Movement — documentary

12 Hour Shift — horror

12 Mighty Orphans — drama

17 Blocks — documentary

37 Seconds — drama

76 Days — documentary

The 420 Movie (2020) — comedy

2040 — documentary

7500 — drama

Aamis — drama

Abe — drama

About Endlessness — comedy/drama

Above Suspicion (2021) — drama

Adverse — drama

Advocate — documentary

The Affair (2021) (formerly titled The Glass Room) — drama

After Class (formerly titled Safe Spaces) — comedy/drama

After Parkland — documentary

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News — documentary

Ailey — documentary

AKA Jane Roe — documentary

Algorithm: Bliss — sci-fi/horror

All Day and a Night — drama

All I Can Say — documentary

All In: The Fight for Democracy — documentary

All Light, Everywhere — documentary

All My Life — drama

All Roads to Pearla (formerly titled Sleeping in Plastic) — drama

All the Bright Places — drama

Almost Love (also titled Sell By) — comedy/drama

Alone (2020) (starring Jules Willcox) — horror

Alone (2020) (starring Tyler Posey) — horror

Amazing Grace — documentary

American Fighter — drama

An American Pickle — comedy

American Street Kid — documentary

American Woman (2020) — drama

Ammonite — drama

Amulet — horror

And Then We Danced — drama

Another Round — drama

Antebellum — horror

Anthony — drama

Apocalypse ’45 — documentary

The Apollo — documentary

The Arbors — sci-fi/horror

The Argument — comedy

Army of the Dead (2021) — horror

Artemis Fowl — fantasy

The Artist’s Wife — drama

Ascension (2021) — documentary

Ask for Jane — drama

Ask No Questions — documentary

As of Yet — comedy/drama

The Assistant — drama

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal — documentary

Athlete A — documentary

Attack of the Murder Hornets — documentary

Baby God — documentary

Babysplitters — comedy

Babyteeth — drama

Bacurau — drama

Bad Boys for Life — action

Bad Detectives (formerly titled Year of the Detectives) — drama

Bad Education (2020) — drama

Bad Therapy (formerly titled Judy Small) — comedy/drama

Ballad of a White Cow — drama

Banana Split — comedy

Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art — documentary

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar — comedy

Beanpole — drama

Beast Beast — drama

Beastie Boys Story — documentary

Becoming — documentary

Behind You — horror

Beneath Us — horror

Big Time Adolescence — comedy/drama

The Big Ugly — drama

Billie (2020) — documentary

Bill & Ted Face the Music — sci-fi/comedy

The Binge — comedy

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — action

Black Bear — drama

Blackbird (2020) — drama

Black Box (2020) — horror

Black Is King — musical

Black Magic for White Boys — comedy

Black Widow (2021) — action

Blast Beat — drama

Blessed Child — documentary

Blithe Spirit (2021) — comedy

Blood and Money — drama

Blood on Her Name — drama

Bloodshot (2020) — sci-fi/action

Bloody Hell — horror

Blow the Man Down — drama

Blue Story — drama

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island — horror

Body Cam — horror

Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) — comedy/drama

Boogie — drama

The Booksellers — documentary

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — comedy

The Boss Baby: Family Business — animation

The Boys (first episode) — action

Brahms: The Boy II — horror

Breaking Fast — comedy

Breaking News in Yuba County — comedy

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists — documentary

The Broken Hearts Gallery — comedy

Brothers by Blood (formerly titled The Sound of Philadelphia) — drama

Browse — drama

Buffaloed — comedy

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn — documentary

Burden (2020) — drama

Burning Cane — drama

Burn It All — drama

The Burnt Orange Heresy — drama

Cactus Jack — horror

Cagefighter — drama

Calendar Girl — documentary

The Call of the Wild (2020) — live-action/animation

A Call to Spy — drama

Call Your Mother — documentary

Cane River — drama

Capone — drama

Carmilla — drama

Castle in the Ground — drama

Catch the Fair One — drama

Censor (2021) — horror

Centigrade — drama

Changing the Game (2021) — documentary

Chasing the Present — documentary

Chasing Wonders — drama

Chick Fight — comedy

Children of the Sea — animation

Chop Chop — horror

Circus of Books — documentary

City of Lies — drama

The Clearing (2020) — horror

Clementine — drama

Cliff Walkers (formerly titled Impasse) — drama

The Climb (2020) — comedy/drama

Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun — documentary

Clover — drama

Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert — documentary

CODA — comedy/drama

Coded Bias (formerly titled Code for Bias) — documentary

Coffee & Kareem — comedy

Collective — documentary

Color Out of Space — sci-fi/horror

The Columnist — horror

Come as You Are (2020)  — comedy

Come Play — horror

Come to Daddy — horror

Come True — sci-fi/drama

Coming 2 America — comedy

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It — horror

Console Wars — documentary

The Cordillera of Dreams — documentary

Count Basie: Through His Own Eyes — documentary

The Courier (2021) (formerly titled Ironbark) — drama

The Craft: Legacy — horror

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words — documentary

Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine — documentary

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution — documentary

Crisis (2021) — drama

Critical Thinking — drama

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan — documentary

The Croods: A New Age — animation

Crown Vic — drama

CRSHD — comedy

Cruella — comedy/drama

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw — horror

Cut Throat City — drama

Da 5 Bloods — drama

Daddy Issues (2020) — comedy

Dads — documentary

Dangerous Lies — drama

Dara of Jasenovac — drama

The Dark Divide — drama

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 — action/comedy

Dave Not Coming Back — documentary

A Day in the Life of America — documentary

Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Road to Altamont — documentary

Days of the Whale — drama

A Deadly Legend — horror

Dear Santa — documentary

Death in Texas — drama

Decade of Fire — documentary

The Deeper You Dig — horror

The Delicacy — documentary

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil — documentary

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train — animation

Denise Ho — Becoming the Song — documentary

Desolation Center — documentary

Desperados — comedy

The Devil Below (formerly titled Shookum Hills) — horror

Devil’s Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge — horror

Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo — documentary

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy — documentary

Die in a Gunfight — action

Disappearance at Clifton Hill — drama

Disclosure (2020) — documentary

Diving With Dolphins — documentary

The Djinn — horror

The Dog Doc — documentary

Dolittle — live-action/animation

Dolphin Island — drama

Dolphin Reef — documentary

Do Not Reply — horror

Don’t Look Back (2020) (formerly titled Good Samaritan) — horror

The Doorman (2020) — action

Dosed — documentary

Downhill — comedy

Dream Horse — drama

Dreamland (2020) (starring Margot Robbie) — drama

Driven to Abstraction — documentary

Driveways — drama

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America — documentary

The Dry — drama

Duty Free — documentary

Easy Does It — comedy

El Cuartito — comedy/drama

Elephant (2020) — documentary

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things — documentary

Embattled — drama

Emma (2020) — comedy/drama

The Emoji Story (formerly titled Picture Character) — documentary

Endangered Species (2021) — drama

End of Sentence — drama

Enforcement (formerly titled Shorta) — drama

Enhanced (2021) (also titled Mutant Outcasts) — sci-fi/action

Enola Holmes — drama

Entwined (2020) — horror

Epicentro — documentary

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions — horror

The Etruscan Smile (also titled Rory’s Way) — drama

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — comedy

Evil Eye (2020) — horror

The Evil Next Door — horror

Exit Plan — drama

Extraction (2020) — action

F9 — action

Falling (2021) — drama

A Fall From Grace — drama

The Fallout — drama

Farewell Amor — drama

Fatal Affair (2020) — drama

Fatale — drama

The Father (2021) — drama

Fatima (2020) — drama

Fatman — comedy

Fear of Rain — horror

The Fight (2020) — documentary

Finding You (2021) — drama

First Cow — drama

First Date (2021) — comedy

Flashback (2021) (formerly titled The Education of Frederick Fitzell) — drama

Flipped (2020) — comedy

Force of Nature (2020) — action

The Forever Purge — horror

For They Know Not What They Do — documentary

The Forty-Year-Old Version — comedy

Four Good Days — drama

Four Kids and It — fantasy

Framing John DeLorean — documentary

Freaky — horror

French Exit — comedy/drama

Friendsgiving — comedy

From the Vine — comedy/drama

Funhouse (2021) — horror

Gaia (2021) — horror

Game of Death (2020) — horror

Ganden: A Joyful Land — documentary

The Garden Left Behind — drama

The Gasoline Thieves — drama

Gay Chorus Deep South — documentary

The Gentlemen — action

Get Duked! (formerly titled Boyz in the Wood) — comedy

Get Gone — horror

The Ghost of Peter Sellers — documentary

A Girl From Mogadishu — drama

A Girl Missing — drama

A Glitch in the Matrix — documentary

The God Committee — drama

Godzilla vs. Kong — action

The Go-Go’s — documentary

Golden Arm — comedy

Goldie — drama

Good Posture — comedy

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind — documentary

Greed — comedy/drama

The Green Knight — horror/fantasy

Greenland — sci-fi/action

Gretel & Hansel — horror

Greyhound — drama

The Grudge (2020) — horror

Guest of Honour — drama

Gunda — documentary

Half Brothers — comedy

The Half of It — comedy

Halloween Party (2020) — horror

Happiest Season — comedy

Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics — documentary

Haymaker (2021) — drama

Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation — documentary

He Dreams of Giants — documentary

Held — horror

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful — documentary

Here Are the Young Men — drama

Here Today — comedy/drama

Hero Dog: The Journey Home — drama

Hero Mode — comedy

Herself — drama

The High Note — comedy/drama

His House — horror

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard — action

Holler — drama

Holly Slept Over — comedy

Honest Thief — action

Hooking Up (2020) — comedy

Hope Gap — drama

Horse Girl — sci-fi/drama

The Host (2020) — horror

Hosts — horror

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 — comedy/horror

House of Hummingbird — drama

How It Ends (2021) — comedy

How to Build a Girl — comedy

How to Fix a Primary — documentary

Human Capital (2020) — drama

Human Nature (2020) — documentary

The Hunt — horror

Hunter Hunter — horror

Hysterical (2021) — documentary

I Am Human — documentary

I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story — drama

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation — action

I Carry You With Me — drama

If I Can’t Have You: The Jodi Arias Story — documentary

I Hate New York — documentary

I Hate the Man in My Basement — drama

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me — documentary

Impractical Jokers: The Movie — comedy

I’m Thinking of Ending Things — drama

I’m Your Woman — drama

Incitement — drama

Infamous (2020) — drama

The Infiltrators — docudrama

The Informer (2020) — drama

Initials SG — drama

Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica — documentary

In Our Mothers’ Gardens — documentary

Instaband — documentary

In the Earth — horror

In the Footsteps of Elephant — documentary

In the Heights — musical

The Invisible Man (2020) — horror

Iron Mask (formerly titled The Mystery of the Dragon Seal) — action

Irresistible (2020) — comedy

I Still Believe — drama

It Takes a Lunatic — documentary

I Used to Go Here — comedy/drama

I’ve Got Issues — comedy

I Want My MTV — documentary

I Will Make You Mine — drama

Jakob’s Wife — horror

Jay Myself — documentary

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey — musical

John Henry — action

John Lewis: Good Trouble — documentary

JonBenét Ramsey: What Really Happened? — documentary

Judas and the Black Messiah (formerly titled Jesus Was My Homeboy) — drama

Judy & Punch — drama

Jungle Cruise — action

Jungleland (2020) — drama

Kajillionaire — comedy/drama

Kat and the Band — comedy

Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On! — documentary

Kid Candidate — documentary

Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections — documentary

Killer Among Us — horror

Killer Therapy — horror

The Killing of Two Lovers — drama

The Kill Team (2019) — drama

Kill the Monsters — drama

The Kindness of Strangers — drama

Kindred — drama

The King of Staten Island — comedy/drama

La Llorona — horror

Land (2021) — drama

Lansky (2021) — drama

The Last Full Measure — drama

The Last Vermeer — drama

The Lawyer — drama

Leftover Women — documentary

Les Misérables (2019) — drama

Let Him Go — drama

The Lie (2020) — drama

Life in a Day 2020 — documentary

Like a Boss — comedy

Limbo (2021) — comedy/drama

Limerence — comedy

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice — documentary

Lingua Franca — drama

Little Fish (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Little Things (2021) — drama

The Lodge — horror

The Longest Wave — documentary

Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos — documentary

Long Weekend (2021) — sci-fi/drama

Lost Bayou — drama

Lost Girls — drama

Lost Transmissions — drama

Los Últimos Frikis — documentary

Love and Monsters — sci-fi/horror/action

The Lovebirds — comedy

Love Sarah — comedy/drama

Love Type D — comedy

Love Wedding Repeat — comedy

Low Tide — drama

Luca (2021) — animation

Lucky Grandma — action

Luz: The Flower of Evil — horror

LX 2048 — sci-fi

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over — documentary

Mai Khoi & the Dissidents — documentary

The Main Event (2020) — action

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound— documentary

Mallory (2021) — documentary

Mama Weed — comedy/drama

Mank — drama

The Man Who Sold His Skin — drama

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — drama

Mark, Mary & Some Other People — comedy

The Marksman (2021) — action

Martha: A Picture Story — documentary

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words — documentary

Mass (2021) — drama

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

The Mauritanian — drama

Mighty Ira — documentary

Mighty Oak — drama

Military Wives — comedy/drama

The Mimic (2021) — comedy

Minari — drama

The Mindfulness Movement — documentary

Misbehaviour — drama

Miss Americana — documentary

Miss Juneteenth — drama

MLK/FBI — documentary

Moffie — drama

The Mole Agent — documentary

Monday (2021) — drama

Monster Hunter — sci-fi/action

Mortal — sci-fi/action

Mortal Kombat (2021) — fantasy/action

Most Dangerous Game — action

Most Wanted (formerly titled Target Number One) — drama

Mr. Soul! — documentary

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado — documentary

Mulan (2020) — action

Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story — documentary

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story — documentary

My Boyfriend’s Meds — comedy

My Dad’s Christmas Date — comedy/drama

My Darling Vivian — documentary

My Love (2021) — comedy/drama

My Octopus Teacher — documentary

My Salinger Year (also titled My New York Year) — drama

My Spy — comedy

Mystify: Michael Hutchence — documentary

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind — documentary

The Nest (2020) — drama

Never Rarely Sometimes Always — drama

Never Too Late (2020) — comedy

New Order (2021) — drama

News of the World — drama

A Nice Girl Like You — comedy

The Night (2021) — horror

Night of the Kings — drama

Nina Wu — drama

Noah Land — drama

Nobody (2021) — action

Nocturne (2020) — horror

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin — documentary

Nomadland — drama

No Man’s Land (2021) — drama

No Small Matter — documentary

Notturno — documentary

The Novice (2021) — drama

Old — horror

The Old Guard — action

Olympia — documentary

Olympic Dreams — comedy/drama

Once Upon a River — drama

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band — documentary

One Hour Outcall — drama

One Night in Bangkok — drama

One Night in Miami… — drama

Only — sci-fi/drama

On the Record — documentary

On the Rocks (2020) — drama

On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries — documentary

Onward — animation

Open — drama

Ordinary Love — drama

Origin of the Species — documentary

Otherhood — comedy

The Other Lamb — drama

Other Music — documentary

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles — documentary

Our Friend (formerly titled The Friend) — drama

Our Ladies — comedy/drama

Our Time Machine — documentary

Out of Blue — drama

The Outpost — drama

Out Stealing Horses — drama

The Painter and the Thief — documentary

Palm Springs — comedy

Paper Spiders — drama

The Paper Tigers — action

Parallel (2020) — sci-fi/drama

Paranormal Prison — horror

Parkland Rising — documentary

A Patient Man — drama

A Perfect Enemy — drama

The Personal History of David Copperfield — comedy/drama

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway — live-action/animation

Phobias (2021) — horror

The Photograph — drama

The Place of No Words — drama

The Planters — comedy

Plucked — documentary

Plus One (2019) — comedy

The Pollinators — documentary

Pornstar Pandemic: The Guys — documentary

Possessor Uncut — sci-fi/horror

Premature (2020) — drama

The Prey (2020) — action

The Price of Desire — drama

Profile (2021) — drama

Project Power — sci-fi/action

Promising Young Woman — comedy/drama

Proxima — sci-fi/drama

P.S. Burn This Letter Please — documentary

Public Enemy Number One — documentary

PVT CHAT — drama

The Quiet One — documentary

A Quiet Place Part II — sci-fi/horror

Quo Vadis, Aida? — drama

The Racer — drama

Radioactive — drama

A Rainy Day in New York — comedy

Raising Buchanan — comedy

Raya and the Last Dragon — animation

Rebuilding Paradise — documentary

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — documentary

Red Penguins — documentary

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs — animation

A Regular Woman — drama

Relic — horror

The Rental (2020) — horror

Rent-A-Pal — horror

The Rescue List — documentary

Resistance (2020) — drama

Retaliation (formerly titled Romans) — drama

Rewind — documentary

The Rhythm Section — action

The Ride (2020) — drama

Ride Like a Girl — drama

Riders of Justice — drama

The Right One — comedy

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It — documentary

River City Drumbeat — documentary

RK/RKAY — comedy

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain — documentary

Roald Dahl’s The Witches — horror/fantasy

Robert the Bruce — drama

The Rookies (2021) — action

Run (2020) — drama

Runner — documentary

Run With the Hunted — drama

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words — documentary

Safer at Home — drama

Saint Frances — comedy/drama

Saint Maud — horror

Save Yourselves! — sci-fi/horror/comedy

The Scheme (2020) — documentary

Scheme Birds — documentary

School’s Out Forever — horror

Scoob! — animation

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street — documentary

Screened Out — documentary

Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (formerly titled Seahorse) — documentary

Seberg — drama

The Secret: Dare to Dream — drama

A Secret Love — documentary

The Secrets We Keep — drama

See Know Evil — documentary

See You Yesterday — sci-fi/drama

Selah and the Spades — drama

Separation (2021) — horror

Sergio (2020) — drama

Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days — documentary

Settlers (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Seventh Day (2021) — horror

Shadows of Freedom — documentary

She Dies Tomorrow — drama

She’s in Portland — drama

Shine Your Eyes — drama

Shirley — drama

Shithouse — comedy/drama

Shortcut — horror

The Short History of the Long Road — drama

Showbiz Kids — documentary

The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock — documentary

Siberia (2021) — drama

Silk Road (2021) — drama

A Simple Wedding — comedy

The Sinners (2021) (formerly titled The Color Rose) — horror

Six Minutes to Midnight — drama

Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story — documentary

Skin Deep: The Battle Over Morgellons — documentary

Skin Walker — horror

Skyman — sci-fi/drama

Slay the Dragon — documentary

Smiley Face Killers — horror

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins — action

Sno Babies — drama

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2020) — documentary

Some Kind of Heaven — documentary

Sometimes Always Never — comedy/drama

The Sonata — horror

Songbird — sci-fi/drama

Sonic the Hedgehog — live-action/animation

Sorry We Missed You — drama

Soul — animation

Sound of Metal — drama

Spaceship Earth — documentary

The Sparks Brothers — documentary

Spell (2020) — horror

Spelling the Dream (formerly titled Breaking the Bee) — documentary

Spiral (2021) — horror

Spirit Untamed — animation

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run — live-action/animation

Spontaneous — sci-fi/horror/comedy

Sputnik — sci-fi/horror

Standing Up, Falling Down — comedy/drama

Stardust (2020) — drama

Starting at Zero — documentary

The State of Texas vs. Melissa — documentary

Stealing School — comedy/drama

Stevenson Lost & Found — documentary

Still Here (2020) — drama

Stillwater (2021) — drama

The Story of Soaps — documentary

The Stranger (Quibi original) — drama

Stray (2021) — drama

Stray Dolls — drama

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street — documentary

Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash — drama

The Stylist — horror

Subjects of Desire — documentary

Sublime — documentary

Sugar Daddy (2021) — drama

The Suicide Squad — action

Summerland — drama

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) — documentary

The Sunlit Night — comedy/drama

Supernova (2021) — drama

The Surrogate — drama

Survive — drama

Swallow — drama

Sweet Thing (2021) — drama

The Swerve — drama

The Swing of Things — comedy

Sylvie’s Love — drama

Synchronic — sci-fi/horror

Tape (2020) — drama

Tar — horror

A Taste of Sky — documentary

Ten Minutes to Midnight  — horror

Tesla  — drama

Then Came You (2020)  — comedy

They Call Me Dr. Miami — documentary

The Thing About Harry  — comedy

Think Like a Dog — comedy/drama

This Is Personal — documentary

This Is Stand-Up — documentary

Those Who Wish Me Dead — drama

A Thousand Cuts (2020) — documentary

A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy — documentary

Through the Night (2020) — documentary

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison — comedy

Time (2020) — documentary

The Times of Bill Cunningham — documentary

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made  — comedy

To Kid or Not to Kid — documentary

The Tobacconist — drama

Together Together — comedy/drama

Tom and Jerry — live-action/animation

Tommaso — drama

Tom of Your Life — sci-fi/comedy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free — documentary

Too Late (2021) — horror/comedy

Totally Under Control — documentary

Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare — drama

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — drama

The Trip to Greece — comedy

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts — documentary

Trolls World Tour — animation

Troop Zero — comedy

The True Adventures of Wolfboy — drama

The Truffle Hunters — documentary

Trust (2021) — drama

The Truth — drama

The Turning (2020) — horror

The Twentieth Century — comedy

Two of Us (2021) — drama

Tyson — documentary

Unbelievable (premiere episode) — drama

Uncaged (also titled Prey) – horror

Uncorked — drama

Under the Volcano (2021) — documentary

Underwater — sci-fi/horror

Undine (2021) — drama

Unhinged (2020) — action

The Unholy (2021) — horror

The United States vs. Billie Holiday — drama

The Unthinkable — drama

Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music — documentary

Uprooting Addiction — documentary

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own — documentary

Valley Girl (2020) — musical

The Vanished (2020) (formerly titled Hour of Lead)— drama

Vanquish (2021) — action

The Vast of Night — sci-fi/drama

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee — comedy

The Vigil (2021) — horror

The Village in the Woods — horror

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations — documentary

The Virtuoso (2021) — drama

Vivarium — sci-fi/drama

Voyagers — sci-fi/drama

Waiting for the Barbarians — drama

Wander Darkly — drama

The War With Grandpa — comedy

Watson — documentary

The Way Back (2020) — drama

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme — documentary

We Are Little Zombies — comedy/drama

We Are Many — documentary

We Are the Radical Monarchs — documentary

Weathering With You — animation

We Broke Up — comedy

Welcome to Chechnya — documentary

Werewolves Within — horror/comedy

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali — documentary

What We Found — drama

What Will Become of Us — documentary

When the Streetlights Go On — drama

The Whistlers — drama

A White, White Day — drama

Widow of Silence — drama

Wig — documentary

Wild Mountain Thyme — drama

The Windermere Children — drama

Wine Crush (Vas-y Coupe!) (formerly titled Vas-y Coupe!) — documentary

Witch Hunt (2021) — horror

Wojnarowicz — documentary

The Wolf House — animation

The Wolf of Snow Hollow — horror

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem — documentary

Women (2021) — horror

Wonder Woman 1984 — action

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation — documentary

Words on Bathroom Walls — drama

Work It — comedy/drama

The World to Come — drama

Wrath of Man — action

The Wretched — horror

A Writer’s Odyssey — fantasy/action

The Wrong Missy — comedy

XY Chelsea — documentary

Yellow Rose — drama

You Cannot Kill David Arquette — documentary

You Don’t Nomi — documentary

You Go to My Head — drama

You Should Have Left — horror

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn — documentary

Zack Snyder’s Justice League — action

Zappa — documentary

Zola — comedy/drama

Zombi Child — horror

Review: ‘Settlers’ (2021), starring Sofia Boutella, Brooklynn Prince, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Jonny Lee Miller and Nell Tiger Free

July 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sofia Boutella and Brooklynn Prince in “Settlers” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Settlers” (2021)

Directed by Wyatt Rockefeller

Culture Representation: Taking place on Mars over an approximate 10-year period, the sci-fi drama “Settlers” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino and indigenous people) representing humans who have settled on Mars.

Culture Clash: A husband, a wife and their young daughter live in isolation on Mars when their worst fear comes true they become victims of a home invasion.

Culture Audience: “Settlers” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “danger in outer space” movies, but viewers should be prepared for a movie that quickly loses steam halfway through the film.

Ismael Cruz Córdova in “Settlers” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

The sci-fi drama “Settlers” seems like it was an idea that was originally conceived as a short film, but somehow it got stretched into increasingly dull junk that trudges to an unsurprising and lackluster end. There are moments of suspense early on in the film, but they’re not enough to compensate for a movie that wastes a lot of time showing unhappy people isolated in a house, or people running from the front yard to the house and back again. The movie repeats these scenarios too often for its own good.

“Settlers” (which takes place on Mars) is the feature-film debut of writer/director Wyatt Rockefeller, who shows some potential in being able to come up with an intriguing concept for a movie. The problem is that the follow-through in the storytelling is very weak. “Settlers,” which has a small number of people in the cast, needed better character development and more realistic human interactions.

More thought seems to have been put into the film’s first of three acts rather than the second and third acts. The result is an uneven movie where viewers will be disappointed at how much the story deflates into a nonsensical bore. “Settlers” doesn’t even explain how humans can survive in Mars’ atmosphere (which is 95% carbon dioxide) without any type of breathing devices.

“Settlers,” which was actually filmed in South Africa, doesn’t even look like it takes place on another planet. It just look like a typical desert area on Earth. The deficiencies in the movie’s production design can be somewhat excused by the movie having a low-budget, but there are low-budget sci-fi movies that take place on a planet other than Earth that still make more of an effort to simulate a planet that looks different from Earth. What’s more detrimental to “Settlers” than the unimaginative production design is how badly it bungles the “home invasion” part of the story.

The three chapters in “Settlers” are named after the three adults who have the most screen time and the most significant speaking roles in the movie. Chapter 1 is titled “Reza,” Chapter 2″ is titled “Ilsa,” and Chapter 3 is titled “Jerry.” Who are these people? By the end of the movie. you still won’t know too much about them except the basics, such as where they came from and why they’re living on Mars.

Reza (played by Johnny Lee Miller), his wife Ilsa (played by Sofia Boutella) and their curious 9-year-old daughter Remmy (played by Brooklynn Prince) are living in isolation in a house that looks more New Age than Space Age. Remmy’s only companion is a young pig named Cassie, which is kept in a small fenced-in area in the front yard. It’s eventually revealed that this family of three settled on Mars as refugees from Earth because Reza has a shady past and he wanted to start a new life on another planet. Don’t expect details on what Reza’s past misdeeds were, because the move never reveals that information.

Reza and Ilsa seem very afraid of anyone finding out where they are. They are armed with guns and knives. They always seem to be on the alert for sounds of other people who might be in the vicinity. In an early scene in the movie, when Reza is saying good night to Remmy before she goes to sleep, she asks him, “Are there people nearby?”

Reza seems nervous when he replies, “No! It’s just us.” Reza reminds Remmy that they’ve come to Mars because “we wanted more” than what Earth could offer. He also assures Remmy that someday, Mars will be just like Earth. In the meantime, the family has a greenhouse where they grow their own food. There’s no explanation for where they get water in this very desert-looking environment.

One day, the family wakes up to see that the windows at the front of their house have been vandalized with large block letters that read “LEAVE.” Funnily enough, the letters look like they were written from inside the house, which is a detail that the filmmakers didn’t think through, because it’s implied that the vandalism was supposed to took place outside the house. Unless the vandals knew how to do mirror-reverse writing, it doesn’t make sense that the words “LEAVE” would be written as if done from the inside, not outside.

Soon after discovering this vandalism, people can be heard howling like wolves in the distance outside. As a frightened Ilsa asks, “What if it’s the son?” Reza abruptly replies, “Don’t!” He grabs a gun, runs outside and yells, “Come on!,” as if it’s a dare for any strangers to come and get them. It’s a puzzling move from someone who’s trying to protect his family from a home invasion.

Remmy has a tendency to wander outside in the barren yard (usually to play with the pig) when her parents aren’t looking. Ilsa notices that Remmy has been missing while Reza was foolishly daring possible home invaders to go to the house. In a panic, Ilsa calls for Remmy, who’s in the front yard, just as some shadowy figures come out of nowhere and chase after Remmy, who’s running desperately back to the house.

An unnamed woman (played by Natalie Walsh) and an unnamed man (played by Matthew Van Leeve) have run the closest to Remmy. The woman snatches Remmy in attempt to kidnap her. Reza begins shooting, while Ilsa runs outside with a knife. And some people end up dead. It’s enough to say that Remmy is one of the survivors.

The character of Jerry (played by Ismael Cruz Córdova) is a man in his late 20s or early 30s, and he shows up unexpectedly at the house not long after this invasion. He’s armed with a gun and a knife, but he doesn’t hurt anyone in the house. However, one of the parents attacks him, but Jerry doesn’t kill that person in self-defense.

Instead, he makes a bargain: If he gets to stay in the house with the family for 30 days without being physically attacked or ambushed, he will leave his gun behind and leave them alone permanently. In the meantime, Jerry expects to be fed and taken care of in the home, and he offers to protect the house residents in return. He eventually reveals that his parents used to own the house, and he grew up there, which is why he came back.

Are Remmy’s parents squatters? And what happened to the house’s previous residents? Those questions are answered in the movie, which shows that there are reasons for Jerry and the house residents to feel anger and resentment toward each other. Jerry comes across as someone who is capable of doing very bad things and who has secrets of his own, but he seems to be sincere about keeping his end of the bargain. He has a primitive robot that Remmy has named Steve, which she treats like a family pet dog.

Meanwhile, the movie has a somewhat useless subplot where Remmy sees something that makes her angry, so she runs away from home. There’s a badly filmed sequence where it looks like she gets trapped in a tunnel-like area that has a door that suddenly comes down in the entrance. But then, the next thing you know she’s back at the house, with no explanation how she got herself out of that predicament. The movie never goes beyond a limited area, nor does it explain what other people on Mars might be doing outside this house or how many other settlers from Earth might be on Mars.

The movie’s last chapter is a fast-forward of about 10 years, with Remmy in her late teens (played by Nell Tiger Free). It’s by far the most ill-conceived and uninspired chapter of this story, because the plot doesn’t really go anywhere until toward the end when Remmy does something that is very easy to predict. All of the actors are given unimaginative and stiff dialogue, so they don’t really get to show much talent in this movie, although Prince fares the best in trying to depict a believable array of emotions.

If your idea of an entertaining Mars sci-fi movie is to watch people prepare meals in a very Earth-looking kitchen, climb on rocks, hang out in a desolate-looking front yard, and have boring conversations in a very Earth-looking house where everyone looks uncomfortable, then maybe you’ll find some enjoyment from watching “Settlers.” These tedious scenarios make up more than half of the movie. But for everyone else who might expect an unpredictable story with interesting characters, you shouldn’t have to settle for “Settlers.” There are plenty of better and more memorable movies about life on Mars.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Settlers” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021.

Review: ‘Ailey,’ starring Alvin Ailey

July 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alvin Ailey in “Ailey” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Ailey”

Directed by Jamila Wignot

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City, the biographical documentary “Ailey” features a group of white and African American people (and one Asian person) discussing the life and career of pioneering dance troupe founder/choreographer Alvin Ailey, who became one of the first African Americans to launch a world-renowned dance troupe and dance school.

Culture Clash: Ailey, who died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58, struggled with the idea of going public about his HIV diagnosis, and he experienced problems throughout his life, due to racism, homophobia and his issues with mental illness.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of Alvin Ailey fans, “Ailey” will appeal primarily to people who interested in the art of fusion dance and stories about entrepreneurial artists who succeeded despite obstacles being put in their way.

Alvin Ailey in “Ailey” (Photo by Jack Mitchell)

The documentary “Ailey” is a very traditionally made biography of a very non-traditional artist. Although the movie can be at times be slow-paced and dry, it’s greatly boosted by having modern dance pioneer Alvin Ailey as a very fascinating subject. Ardent fans of Ailey will get further insight into his inner thoughts, thanks to the documentary’s previously unreleased audio recordings that he made as a personal journal. The movie also does a very good job at putting into context how Ailey’s influence can be seen in many of today’s dancers and choreographers.

Directed by Jamila Wignot, “Ailey” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and its New York premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. New York City was Ailey’s last hometown, where he found fame as one of the first prominent dancers/choreographers to blend jazz, ballet, theater and Afro-centric culture. His work broke racial barriers in an industry where U.S.-based touring dance troupes were almost exclusively owned and staffed by white people.

Born in the rural town of Rogers, Texas, in 1931, Ailey says in audio recordings that his earliest memories were “being glued to my mother’s hips … while she worked in the fields.” Ailey’s father abandoned the family when Ailey was a baby, so Ailey was raised by his single mother Lula, who was a domestic worker. She supported him in his dream to become a professional dancer.

Ailey’s childhood experiences were shaped by growing up poor in the racially segregated South. In the documentary, he mentions through audio recordings that some of his fondest childhood memories were being at house parties with dancing people and going to the Dew Drop Inn, a famous hotel chain that welcomed people who weren’t allowed in “whites only” hotels and other racially segregated places. Another formative experience in his childhood was being saved from drowning by his good friend Chauncey Green.

By 1942, Ailey and his mother were living in Los Angeles, where she hoped to find better job opportunities in a less racially segregated state. It was in Los Angeles that Ailey first discovered his love of dance and theater, when he became involved in school productions. A life-changing moment happened for him happened at age 15, in 1946, when he saw the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo perform at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. It sparked a passion to make dance his career. And that passion never went away, despite all the ups and downs that he encountered.

In the documentary, Ailey has this to say about watching the Katherine Dunham Dance Company for the first time: “I was taken into another realm … And the male dancers were just superb. The jumps, the agility, the sensuality of what they did blew me away … Dance had started to pull at me.”

But his interest in becoming a dancer was considered somewhat dangerous at the time, because ballet dancing was something that boys could be and still are viciously bullied over as something that’s considered “too effeminate.” Carmen de Lavallade, a longtime friend of Ailey’s, comments in the documentary on what she remembers of a young Ailey before he found fame: “He was beautiful! He didn’t dare let anyone know he wanted to be a dancer, because he would be teased or humiliated.”

But at this pivotal moment in Ailey’s life, it just so happened that Lester Horton opened the Lester Horton Dance Theater in Los Angeles in 1946. Don Martin, a longtime dancer and Ailey friend, says in the documentary that their mutual love of dance prompted Ailey to join Horton’s dance school, where Ailey thrived. Horton became an early mentor to Ailey.

The documentary doesn’t go into great detail over Ailey’s experiences as a student at the University of California at Los Angeles or when he briefly lived in San Francisco, where he worked with then-unknown poet Maya Angelou in a nightclub act called Al and Rita. Instead, the “Ailey” documentary skips right to the 1954, when Ailey moved to New York City to pursue being a professional dancer. In 1958, he founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), which also has an affiliated school.

George Faison, an AAADT dancer/choreographer from 1966 to 1970, comments: “Alvin entertained thoughts and dreams that a black boy could actually dance” in a prominent dance troupe. Ailey shares his thoughts in his personal audio recordings: “It was a universe I could escape into, so that it would allow me to do anything I wanted to do.”

Ailey’s breakthrough work was 1960’s “Revelations,” which was a then-unprecedented modern ballet about uniquely African American experiences steeped in church traditions. The piece was revolutionary not just because it had a majority-black group of dancers and touched on sensitive racial issues but also because it used blues, jazz and gospel instead of traditional classical music. “Revelations” remains Ailey’s most famous performance work.

Mary Barnett, an AAADT rehearsal director from 1975 to 1979, remembers the impact that “Revelations” had on her: “I was moved to tears seeing ‘Revelations’ … I was studying ballet, I was studying dance. This was more of a re-enactment of life.”

Judith Jamsion—an AAADT dancer from 1964 to 1988 and AAADT artistic director from 1989 to 2011—has this to say about what “Revelations” means to her: “What took me away was the prowess and the technique and the fluidity and the excellence in the dance.” Jamison is often credited with being the person who was perhaps the most instrumental in keeping AAADT alive after Ailey’s death.

A turning point for “Revelations” was when the production went on a U.S.-government sponsored tour of Southeast Asia. It’s one thing to be a privately funded dance troupe. But getting the U.S. government’s seal of approval, especially for a tour that could be viewed as a cultural ambassador for American dance, gave AAADT an extra layer of prestige.

However, “Ailey” does not gloss over the some of the racism that Ailey encountered, including tokenism and cultural appropriation. Bill T. Jones, a choreographer who co-founded the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, has this to say about what it’s like to be an African American in an industry that is dominated by white people: “Oftentimes, black creators are used. Everybody used him [Ailey] as, ‘See, this is the progress we’re making. And see, we’re not racist, we have Alvin Ailey.'”

AAADT movement choreographer Rennie Harris (who created 2019’s “Lazarus” for AAADT) comments on Ailey’s mindset in wanting an African American social consciousness to be intrinsic to his work: “You came here to be entertained, but I have to tell my truth.” Harris adds that this way of thinkng influences his own work: “I’m still feeling the same way, as anyone would feel if you’re feeling unwanted by the [dominant] culture.”

Throughout the documentary, Harris and AAADT artistic director Robert Battle can be seen in rehearsals with AAADT dancers to show how Ailey’s legacy currently lives on with other generations of dancers. This back and forth between telling Ailey’s life story and showing present-day AAADT dancers could have been distracting, but it works well for the most part because of the seamless film editing by Annukka Lilja and Cory Jordan Wayne. The documentary has expected archival footage of Ailey interviews and past AAADT performances of Ailey’s work, such as 1969’s “Maskela Language,” 1970’s “The River”; 1971’s “Cry” and “Mary Lou’s Mass”; 1972’s “Love Songs” and 1975’s “Night Creature.”

The “Ailey” documentary includes analysis of some of Ailey’s biggest influences. It’s mentioned that “Cry” was a tribute to hard-working and supportive black women, such as his mother Lula. “Maskela Language” was inspired by the death of Ailey’s early mentor Hampton. Santa Allen, who was an AAADT dancer from 1973 to 1983, comments: “Choreography really was his catharsis.” As for his genre-defying work, Ailey says in archival footage, “I don’t like pinning myself down.”

The documentary has some commentary, but not a lot, on Ailey’s love life. He was openly gay to his close friends, family members and many of colleagues, but he avoided talking about his love life to the media. Ailey was apparently so secretive about his love life that the only serious boyfriend who’s mentioned in the documentary is a man named Abdullah (no last name mentioned), whom Ailey met in Paris and brought to New York City to live with him.

According to what’s said in the documentary, Abdullah left Ailey by climbing out of the apartment’s fire escape. The movie doesn’t mention why they broke up, but Ailey seems to have channeled his heartbreak into his work. Another aspect of Ailey’s personal life that he didn’t easily share with others was his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. Only people in his inner circle knew about these struggles, according to what some people in the documentary say.

AAADT stage manager Bill Hammond says that by the 1970s, Ailey was a full-blown workaholic. “I think he took on too much,” Hammond comments. Other people interviewed in the “Ailey” documentary include “Lazarus” composer Darrin Ross; Linda Kent, an AAADT dancer from 1968 to 1974; Hope Clark, an AAADT dancer from 1965 to 1966; and Masazumi Chaya, an AAADT dancer from 1972 to 1966 and AAADT associate director from 1991 to 2019.

Ailey’s determination to keep his personal life as private as possible also extended to when he found out that he was HIV-positive. Several people in “Ailey” claimed that even when it was obvious that he was looking very unhealthy, he denied having AIDS to many of his closest friends, out of fear of being shunned. It was not uncommon for many people with AIDS to try to hide that they had the disease, especially back in the 1980s, when it was mistakenly labeled as a “gay disease,” and the U.S. government was slow to respond to this public health crisis.

Because dance requires a certain athleticism, having a physically degenerative disease such as AIDS was not something that Ailey wanted to be part of his legacy. According to Jones, many gay men at the time wanted to edit themselves out of the AIDS narrative. “He was part of the editing,” Jones says of Ailey.

And that shame caused Ailey to isolate himself from many of his loved ones. “He was alone,” adds Jones of Ailey not sharing much of his suffering with several people he knew. (On a side note, Jones is the subject of his own documentary: “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters,” which was released in the U.S. a week before the “Ailey” documentary.)

But toward the end of Ailey’s life, it was impossible for him to continue to hide the truth, even though he refused to go public with having AIDS. One of the most emotionally moving parts of the documentary is when Jamison describes being with Ailey on his death bed at the moment that he died: “He breathed in, and he never breathed out. We [the people he left behind] are his breath out.”

“Ailey” is an example of documentary that’s a touching reminder that how someone lives is more important than how someone dies. The storytelling style of this documentary doesn’t really break any new ground. However, people who have an appreciation for highly creative artists will find “Ailey” a worthy portrait of someone whose life might have been cut short, but he has an influential legacy that will continue for generations.

Neon released “Ailey” in New York City on July 23, 2021, and in Los Angeles on July 30, 2021, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on August 6, 2021.

Review: ‘The Suicide Squad,’ starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, David Dastmalchian, Viola Davis and Daniela Melchior

July 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Joel Kinnaman, Alice Braga, Daniela Melchior, King Shark, Idris Elba and John Cena in “The Suicide Squad” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Suicide Squad”

Directed by James Gunn

Culture Representation: Taking place in Louisiana and a fictional South American country called Corto Maltese, the superhero action flick “The Suicide Squad” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Latino and Asian) representing government official, superheroes, villains, fantasy creatures and everything in between.

Culture Clash: The Suicide Squad—a ragtag group of prisoners and outlaws with special abilities—is ordered by the U.S. government to go on a secret mission to destroy a nefarious scientific operation that is intended to control the world .

Culture Audience: “The Suicide Squad” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in violent, zany and foul-mouthed superhero movies that skillfully blur the lines between heroes and villains.

Joel Kinnaman, John Cena, Margot Robbie, Peter Capaldi and Idris Elba in “The Suicide Squad” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Suicide Squad” is the bonkers and bloody action spectacle that fans of iconoclastic superhero movies deserve. It’s a worthy and memorable alternative of writer/director David Ayer’s 2016’s much-maligned “Suicide Squad,” which was a confused and muddled film that ultimately played it too safe for these roguish and rude DC Comics characters. “The Suicide Squad” (written and directed by James Gunn) gives a much-needed adult-oriented resuscitation—not just to the original “Suicide Squad” movie but also to the superhero genre in general, which has a tendency to be formulaic and predictable.

“The Suicide Squad” is the superhero movie equivalent of someone who will kiss you and kick you at the same time. Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, there are surprises that most superhero movies would never dare to have. Several characters initially look like they’re going to be prominently featured in the story, but they actually get killed off early in the film. And there are more unexpected deaths that defy the usual expectations of who lives and who dies in a typical superhero film.

Because of all these unexpected deaths in “The Suicide Squad,” the only way to describe the movie without giving away spoiler information is to say that the Suicide Squad’s mission in this movie is to go to the fictional South American island nation of Corto Maltese and destroy a top-secret scientific operation called Project Starfish. Just like in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie and in the DC Comics series that inspired this movie franchise, the Suicide Squad (whose official name is Task Force X) consists of dangerous inmates who are held at a federal prison called Belle Reve in Louisiana. The members of the team have special skills or powers that make the Suicide Squad an above-average combat group.

Belle Reve is a recruiting center for a no-nonsense, tough-talking U.S. government official named Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis, reprising her role from 2016’s “Suicide Squad”), who is in charge of monitoring the Suicide Squad members when they go on their black operations (in other words, government-classified missions), under orders from the U.S. government. If the Suicide Squad members complete the mission, then they can get a pre-determined number of years shaved off of their prison sentences. In case any of these Suicide Squad members try to escape or defy orders, an explosive device is implanted in each of their heads, and Amanda has the power to detonate this explosive device.

While Amanda keeps tabs on the Suicide Squad in a control room with elaborate high-tech surveillance, her subordinate Colonel Rick Flag (played by Joel Kinnaman, also from 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie) is the military commander who accompanies the Suicide Squad on their missions. In other words, he does a lot of dirty work that Amanda doesn’t have to do, and his life is more at risk than hers. Colonel Flag is a loyal government employee. He’s gritty but not as cold-blooded and ruthless as Amanda. And in “The Suicide Squad” movie, viewers will see how he handles an important ethical dilemma.

Who are the members of the Suicide Squad in this movie? They are, in alphabetical order:

  • Blackguard (played by Pete Davidson), whose real name is Richard Hertz, an American guy in his 20s who’s an immature and nervous jokester.
  • Bloodsport (played by Idris Elba), whose real name is Robert Dubois, a cynical, grouchy, middle-aged Brit who’s an expert marksman and who is in prison for shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet, which landed Superman in a hospital’s intensive care unit.
  • Captain Boomerang (played by Jai Courtney), whose real name is George “Digger” Harkness, a hot-tempered Australian in his 30s who uses a deadly boomerang as his main weapon.
  • Javelin (played by Flula Borg), whose real name is Gunter Braun, a cocky German in his 30s who has a javelin as his main weapon.
  • King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), a talking mutant shark that has the intelligence of a 3-year-old human child and an appetite for eating humans.
  • Mongal (played by Mayling Ng), an orange alien with superhero strength and agility.
  • Peacemaker (played by John Cena), whose real name is Christopher Smith, an extremely patriotic middle-aged American who is an expert marksman and immediately has a rivalry with Bloodsport.
  • Polka-Dot Man (played by David Dastmalchian), whose real name is Abner Krill, an insecure American guy in his 40s who has “mother issues” and the ability to eject deadly flying polka dots from his body as weapons.
  • Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), a ditsy American maniac whose past heartbreaks (including her former romance with iconic villain The Joker) and personal grudges affect many of her decisions.
  • Ratcatcher 2 (played by Daniela Melchior), whose real name is Cleo Cazo, a compassionate Portuguese orphan in her 20s who has the ability to command rats to do her bidding.
  • Savant (played by Michael Rooker), whose real name is Brian Durlin, a jaded, 61-year-old American who is an expert in weapons and hand-to-hand combat.
  • T.D.K. (played by Nathan Fillion), a stoic American man in his 40s, whose real name is Cory Pitzner and whose T.D.K. nickname initials stand for The Detachable Kid, because he has the power to detach his limbs and use them as weapons.
  • Weasel (played by Sean Gunn), an easygoing, giant weasel that cannot talk.

Harley and Boomerang were in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” movie. The other characters are new to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) live-action movies. Of these new characters in “The Suicide Squad,” Bloodsport, Polka-Dot Man and Ratcatcher 2 are the ones with the significant backstories that are described in the movie. Amanda tells a reluctant and anti-social Bloodsport that he will be the leader of this revamped Suicide Squad.

Corto Maltese is a country in a lot of political turmoil. For years, the country was ruled by royals called the Herrera Family, but the entire family was murdered by a public hanging during a miltary coup of the government. The leader of this coup is General Silvio Luna (played by Juan Diego Botto), whose right-hand man is Mayor General Mateo Suarez (played by Joaquín Cosio), who’s old enough to be General Luna’s father. General Luna has appointed himself as the military dictator president of Corto Maltese.

Meanwhile, General Luna and his inner circle know all about Project Starfish. The secrets of Project Starfish will give Corto Maltese the ability to become a world superpower. The geneticist in charge of Project Starfish is a Brit named Gaius Grieves (played by Peter Capaldi), who has the nickname the Thinker. He’s the key to getting access to Jotunheim, the name of the scientific research facility that houses Project Starfish in the Corto Maltese city of Valle del Mar. The Thinker is also easy to spot, because he has electrode-like amps, spark plugs and valves portruding from his head, in order to enhance his intelligence.

The only information that the Suicide Squad has about the Thinker is what he looks like and that he often likes to go to a “gentleman’s club” after work. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that the Suicide Squad will be going to a strip club, and there’s going to be a big fight scene there. The way the scene is filmed is not cliché as it sounds. And it has moments of comedy, such as when the Suicide Squad members get drunk and some of them awkwardly start dancing.

In addition to many surprise twists, what makes “The Suicide Squad” different from most other superhero movies is how it manages to be a nihilistic, graphically violent movie with heart and genuine sentiment. It’s a tricky balance that most movies with these intentions would not be able to achieve. The Suicide Squad members might have reputations for being amoral, but the movie shows (in ways that 2016’s “Suicide Squad did not) a certain depth to their emotional damage.

Bloodsport has a rocky relationship with his 16-year-old daughter Tyla (played by Storm Reid), a rebel who has recently gotten into trouble for stealing a StyleWatch, which is described as a device that’s a lot like an Apple Watch. (Tyla’s mother is dead, by the way.) When Tyla comes to visit Bloodsport in prison, she tells him about how she’s gotten in trouble for this theft. Instead of giving the usual parental lecture, Bloodsport chastises Tyla by saying that she should’ve had a thief partner so she wouldn’t get caught.

They yell “fuck you” to each other, because Tyla has a lot of resentment over having an absentee father who has not been there to give her the guidance that she obviously wants. She shouts at Bloodsport that she’s ashamed that he’s her father. And the hurt expression on Bloodsport’s face shows that he’s not so tough after all, at least when it comes to his daughter. Later, after Bloodsport meets Ratcatcher 2, he shows his vulnerable side again when he tells Ratcatcher 2 that she reminds him of his daughter.

Other characters reveal how their family-related traumas have affected them. Polka-Dot Man had a mother (played by Lynne Ashe), who worked at Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories, also known as S.T.A.R. Labs. According to what Polka-Dot Man tells the other Suicide Squad members, his mother was obsessed with making her children superheroes, so she conducted illegal scientific experiments on them.

Polka-Dot Man’s polka dots on his skin are an interdimensional virus that he got from these experiments. His face can balloon into a bloated disfigurement with polka dots unless he expels them. (This transformation is shown in the movie.) Polka-Dot Man says at one point, “I don’t like to kill people, but if I pretend they’re my mom, it’s easy.” And yes, there are some scenes were the Polka-Dot Man hallucinates seeing his mother.

Ratcatcher 2 is the daughter of Ratcatcher (played by Taika Waititi, in a flashback cameo), who taught her how to summon and control rats. The rats kept them company when she and her father lived on the streets of Portugal. During a bus ride with other Suicide Squad members, Ratcatcher 2 talks about how she moved to the U.S. from Portugal, and she’s an orphan because her father died from his “burdens.” (Ratcatcher 2 never talks about what happened to her mother.)

The flashback shows that Ratcatcher’s main burden was a needle-using drug addiction, and he died of a drug overdose. Ratcatcher 2 also says after she moved to the U.S., she was arrested for armed bank robbery, and she can’t believe that her rats were considered a weapon. Ratcatcher 2’s closest companion is a very intelligent rat named Sebastian, which Colonel Flag jokingly calls Ratatouille.

Meanwhile, there’s a running gag in the movie that macho Bloodsport is very afraid of rats. On that bus ride, he reveals why: His mercenary father, who gave him weapons training, would punish Bloodsport as a child for not doing something correctly. One of those punishments was to lock Bloodsport in a crate for 24 hours with hungry rats. Bloodsport’s rat phobia is used for comic relief as well as a very touching moment in the movie.

Harley does not have her signature baseball bat in this movie, but she has a rocket launcher and a javelin that she puts to good use. How she got this javelin is revealed in the movie. In 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” Harley was depicted as a scantily clad sexpot who was lovesick over the Joker. In “The Suicide Squad,” she’s more of an independent badass, just as she was in the 2020 movie “Birds of Prey,” but not like the two-dimensional caricature that she was in “Birds of Prey.”

In one part of the movie, Corto Maltese president Luna summons Harley to his palace for an elaborate lunch date, in order to seduce her and convince her to become his wife. Luna is very anti-American but he’s attracted to Harley because her hellraising antics seem to be anti-American, and he thinks she’s very sexy. Harley is dressed for the occasion in a frilly red gown that she wears for the rest of the movie and during her biggest action scenes. Wearing the red gown while in combat is a symbolic contrast of how Harley sees herself as both girly and gonzo when it comes to fighting.

“The Suicide Squad” has fun with Harley’s image as the Suicide Squad member who’s most likely to make a fashion statement. Early on the movie, Harley wears a red and black leather suit with a jacket emblazoned with the words “Live Fast, Die Clown” on the back. And later in the movie, when she’s wearing the red gown, it’s shown that she has a back tattoo that reads, “Property of No One” next to a jester head that’s mean to signify the Joker. She also has a chest tattoo that reads “Daddy’s Lil Monster,” in a nod to the T-shirt that she famously wore in 2016’s “Suicide Squad.”

Harley might come across a flaky and erratic in some ways, but “The Suicide Squad” presents her with a fascinating and complex mindset. She has a monologue in the movie that’s very revealing in how she still has some inner conflict over how much she’s willing to let her head, not her heart, rule over any decisions that she makes. This movie is Robbie’s most compelling portrayal of Harley Quinn, because she’s finally given the dialogue that this character should have.

Visually, “The Suicide Squad” is the best so far of any live-action movie featuring Harley Quinn. There are some whimsical qualities, such as plot developments spelled out in giant words that are part of the scenery. (“The Suicide Squad” was filmed in Atlanta, Panama, Puerto Rico and Portugal.)The most gruesome and bloodiest scenes have an almost cartoonish quality, so that things don’t appear to be completely depressing and grim. And some of the action scenes have a poetic beauty to them, particularly one sequence involving Harley Quinn and a cascade of flowers in bloom, which are very metaphorical to the blossoming of her character.

What will affect viewers the most is not the violence but who dies in the movie. These deaths are examples of why people in this ragtag Suicide Squad are reluctant or afraid to get emotionally attached to others. (However, in the end-credits scene, it’s revealed that the one of the “dead” characters actually survived.) Although the violence in “The Suicide Squad” is brutal, it’s not without consequences. Too often, superhero movies make most of the villains die and all of the heroes live. “The Suicide Squad” is a big middle finger to that idea.

The rivalry between Bloodsport and Peacemaker provides a lot of comedy, as well as tension-filled moments. As an example of the insult jokes between these two alpha males, Bloodsport derides Peacemaker for his shiny chrome helmet, which Bloodsport says looks like a toilet seat on Peacemaker’s head. Later in the movie, Peacemaker snaps back, “It’s not a toilet seat! It’s a beacon of freedom!”

The acting in “The Suicide Squad” is not going to be nominated for any prestigious awards, but all of the cast members get the job done well for their characters. Robbie and Elba stand out for bringing some nuance as emotionally wounded troublemakers Harley Quinn and Bloodsport. Melchior and Dastmalchian also have some standout moments as Ratcatcher 2 and the Polka-Dot Man, who are the kindler, gentler members of the Suicide Squad. King Shark is written as very simple-minded, so there’s not much going on with this character except fighting, eating humans, and a standout scene where King Shark is fascinated by the contents of a giant aquarium.

The Suicide Squad members have two outside allies from Corto Maltese in their mission: Sol Soria (played by Alice Braga) is the leader of a resistance movement against the military coup. She has a very negative first impression of the Suicide Squad because of a colossal mistake that directly affects Sol. Milton (played by Julio Cesar Ruiz) is a hired driver who becomes the butt of a joke about how people don’t pay attention to service employees in movies like this or in real life.

It’s an example of some of the offbeat sensibilities that Gunn (who’s also known for directing “The Guardians of the Galaxy” movies) brings to “The Suicide Squad.” Another example is how Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo” song is used in one of Harley Quinn’s big action scenes. And in Amanda’s surveillance control room, her subordinates take bets on which Suicide Squad members will live or die during a mission.

One of the ways that “The Suicide Squad” doesn’t play it safe is by having some political themes about American patriotism and how Americans are often perceived by people in other countries. These themes in the movie might get divisive reactions from audience members. But considering that so many superhero movies deliberately avoid politics, “The Suicide Squad” should be commended for going outside the norm and taking some bold risks, even if they might alienate some viewers.

In others words, “The Suicide Squad” is not for the type of superhero movie fan who only wants pleasant, lightweight, family-friendly entertainment. The movie shows the good, bad and ugly sides of humanity in a way that will elicit a wide range of emotions in viewers. But one way that “The Suicide Squad” won’t make most viewers feel is bored.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Suicide Squad” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on August 6, 2021.

Review: ‘Die in a Gunfight,’ starring Alexandra Daddario, Diego Boneta, Justin Chatwin, Billy Crudup, Wade Allain-Marcus, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Travis Fimmel

July 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Diego Boneta and Alexandra Daddario in “Die in a Gunfight” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Die in a Gunfight”

Directed by Collin Schiffli

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Die in a Gunfight” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A ne’er-do-well heir from a wealthy media family tries to win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend, who comes from a rival media family, while a hit man and her jealous former bodyguard, who wants to marry her, get messily involved in the lives of this would-be couple.

Culture Audience: “Die in a Gunfight” will appeal primarily to people who want to watch a painfully dull and unfunny action comedy inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Justin Chatwin in “Die in a Gunfight” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

If William Shakespeare were alive, he would retch at how “Die in a Gunfight” shamelessly steals from “Romeo and Juliet” and rots it down to the tackiest levels. It’s an action comedy that’s boring and witless. And it’s one of those mind-numbingly bad movies that doesn’t have enough of a story to fill a feature-length film, so it just bloats the movie with the cinematic equivalent of hot air.

There are some bad movies that at least should be given credit for trying to be original. However, “Die in a Gunfight”—directed and Collin Schiffli and written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari—has absolutely no originality in any of its ideas. In addition to the “Romeo and Juliet” storyline for the movie’s would-be couple, “Die in a Gunfight” regurgitates plots and tropes that have been seen in too many other movies.

There’s the wacky hitman. There’s the love triangle with a jealous third person who wants to tear the would-be couple apart. There’s the “snitch” who’s been targeted for a murder plot. There’s the forgettable series of gun shootouts, fist fights and chase scenes. And it’s all tangled up in moronic dialogue and substandard acting.

“Die in a Gunfight” takes place in an unnamed big U.S. city (“Die in a Gunfight” was actually filmed in Toronto), where two media mogul families have been feuding for years. Billy Crudup, an Tony-winning and Emmy-winning actor, provides anonymous voiceover narration for “Die in a Gunfight.” He spares himself the embarrassment of not appearing on camera in this messy slop of a movie. Someone must’ve called in a big favor to have an actor of Crudup’s caliber in this movie, because he’s definitely slumming it here.

As the unidentified narrator explains, the Gibbon family and the Rathcart family have been feuding with each other since 1864. That’s the year when patriarch Theodore Gibbon’s newspaper published an unflattering story about patriarch Carlton Rathcart’s shoes. An argument ensued, and Theodore shot Carlton to death. The two families became bitter enemies ever since.

In the present day, each family owns a media empire—Gibbon Telecommunications and Rathcart Corporation—that fiercely competes with each other. Two married couples currently lead these two dynasties: Henry Gibbon (played by Stuart Hughes) and Nancy Gibbon (played by Nicola Correia-Damude) for Gibbon Telecommunications, and William Rathcart (played by John Ralston) and Beatrice Rathcart (played by Michelle Nolden) for Rathcart Coportation.

The husbands are the CEOs of their repsective companies, while their wives don’t seem to work and are socialites. Henry and Nancy Gibbon have a 27-year-old son named Ben (played by Diego Boneta), while William and Beatrice Rathcart have a daughter named Mary (played by Alexandra Daddario), who’s about the same age as Ben. It should be noted that, just like their mothers, Mary and Ben don’t seem to have jobs. It would explain why Ben and Mary have way too much time on their hands to get involved in the stupid shenanigans that this movie has for them.

The jumbled storytelling in “Die in a Gunfight” doesn’t reveal this family information from the beginning. Instead, the opening scene has animation and the narrator explaining that Ben has been in about 32.8 brawls a year since he was 5 years old—and he’s lost every single one of those fights. (You’d never know it though, because Ben is a pretty boy whose face doesn’t look banged up at all.) Ben was living an aimless, detached life until he fell in love with Mary when they were in high school. Needless to say, their parents didn’t approve of their romance.

However, Mary (a privileged rebel who’s been kicked out of every private school she attended) was shipped off to boarding school in Paris. The two teens had made plans to run off together to Mexico when they got old enough to legally do what they want. Ben sent her frequent letters by email, but Mary never answered them. A heartbroken Ben assumed that Mary lost interest in him, and that ignoring his email was her way of breaking up with him. Haven’t these people heard of phones or text messages?

A flashback shows that a depressed Ben, sometime in his mid-20s, ended up going to Mexico by himself. He was about to hang himself from a tree, but there was a mishap and he tumbled down a cliff and right into a guy around his age named Mukul (played by Wade Allain-Marcus), who was being held at gunpoint by a thug who was about to execute Mukul. This random tumble ended up saving Mukul’s life because it also knocked the gun out of the thug’s hand, and Mukul was able to chase him off.

Seven months later, Mukul and Ben became best friends who vowed not to tell anyone the real way that they met. Mukul moved to the U.S. with Ben, where they are seen in the present day crashing a high-society party that’s being held at a mansion. At this party are Mary, Ben’s parents and Mary’s parents. Mary’s parents are predictably annoyed that Ben is there.

Ben hasn’t seen Mary in years, but they look at each other as if they still have have a romantic spark between them. They don’t talk for long, and their conversation is awkward and uncomfortable. Ben and Mukul decide to leave the party, but not before they steal a bunch of fur coats as they exit the mansion.

Ben sees Mary again at a nightclub, where she is trying to avoid someone from her past: Terrence Uberahl (played by Justin Chatwin), who used to be her bodyguard hired by her father. Terrence currently works as a corporate executive/fixer for William Rathcraft. But what Terrence really wants is to marry Mary.

Terrence isn’t afraid to tell Mary that he’s in love with her, but it’s not real love. It’s an obsession. At a private back room in the nightclub, Terrence (whose persona is a mixture of sleazy and dorky) proposes marriage to Mary. He even bought her a diamond engagement ring. Mary is turned off because she’s never been interested in Terrence and never gave him an indication that she wanted to be his romantic partner. Mary immediately says no to this marriage proposal.

Meanwhile, Ben has found himself in another private back room in the nightclub. He’s randomly ended up in the room with a horny married couple named Wayne McCarty (played by Travis Fimmel) and Barbie McCarty (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui), who soon make it known to Ben that they’re swingers. Wayne (who has an unhinged demeanor throughout the movie) encourages Barbie to try to seduce Ben, because apparently Wayne likes to watch Barbie be with other men.

Here’s the awful dialogue that’s in this scene: Wayne tells Ben, “My wife thinks you’re cute—like a rabbit.” Wayne tells Barbie, “Why don’t you go over there and play with your new pet rabbit?” Ben tries to fend off Barbie’s advances, but Wayne gets offended.

Wayne asks Ben how Ben wants to die. Ben replies, “I want to die in a gunfight.” The next thing you know, Wayne gets in a fist fight with Ben. And since the movie’s narrator has already stated that Ben always loses in fights, viewers already know how this brawl is going to end. But before that happens, Wayne kisses Ben on the mouth during the fight.

Not long after this bizarre encounter, Ben and Mary rekindle their romance. It’s about the same time that Mary’s ruthless father is about to possibly experience a scandal that could ruin him financially and send him to prison. A Rathcart Corporation employee named Pamela Corbett-Ragsdale (played by Caroline Raynaud) is about to come forward in a press conference with some bombshell information about the company that directly implicates William Rathcart.

In a private meeting between William and his lackey Terrence, William orders Terrence to hire a hit man to murder Pamela before this whistleblower press conference can happen. Guess which hit man gets hired for the job? Terrence also uses this deadly assignment as an opportunity to ask William for his blessing to marry Mary. William doesn’t seem thrilled with the idea of having Terrence as a son-in-law, but he says he will approve of the marriage if Pamela is murdered.

The rest of the movie is a tedious and irritating dump of bad ideas and even worse acting. Fimmel is the only one in the cast who makes an attempt to have a little campy fun in what he must have surely known was a stinker of a film. However, the rest of the cast members just embarrass themselves with acting that is either too stiff or two hammy. The characters of Barbie and Mukul are completely useless.

The action sequences, which should be among this movie’s biggest assets, are uninteresting and sloppy. As for the movie’s romance, it’s the epitome of empty and shallow. It doesn’t help that Boneta and Daddario do not have convincing chemistry with each other. The only thing that really dies in “Die in a Gunfight” is the expectation that this movie will get better as it goes along, because the ending is just atrocious and the worst part of this idiotic movie.

Lionsgate released “Die in a Gunfight” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 16, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 20, 2021.

Review: ‘The Green Knight,’ starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris and Ralph Ineson

July 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dev Patel and Sean Harris in “The Green Knight” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“The Green Knight”

Directed by David Lowery

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unspecified ancient time in England, the fantasy horror film “The Green Knight” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Indians) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: King Arthur’s adventure-seeking nephew Gawain volunteers to take a life-threatening challenge from the Green Knight, and Gawain encounters many obstacles and temptations along the way.

Culture Audience: “The Green Knight” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in an atmospheric and heady reimagining of the King Arthur legends.

Ralph Ineson (forefront) in “The Green Knight” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“The Green Knight” brings an unconventional horror spin on the King Arthur legends by putting more emphasis on the human mind and spirit experiencing terror rather than on elaborate and bloody physical battles. People who are expecting “The Green Knight” to be a fast-paced action film might be disappointed by the movie’s slow pacing. However, viewers who are patient enough to go on this “head trip” of a movie will find a lot to marvel and ponder in this cinematic retelling of ancient literature.

Written and directed by David Lowery (who has a tendency to make deliberately paced films with complicated protagonists), “The Green Knight” is told in chapters, with each chapter title appearing on the screen. “The Green Knight” is a filmed adaptation of an anonymously written chivalric romance called “Gawain and the Green Knight,” which was published in the 14th century. Do viewers have to know this story or any Arthurian legends before seeing “The Green Knight”? No, but it helps.

“The Green Knight” begins during a Christmas season and ends one year later. In the opening of the movie, rebellious and stubborn knight Gawain (played by Dev Patel) has spent the night before Christmas getting drunk and being with his lover Helen (played by Anais Rizzo), who is a commoner. When Gawain comes home, his nameless mother (played by Sarita Choudhury) asks Gawain where he was all night. Gawain lies and says that he was attending Mass. His mother, who smells the liquor on him, replies sarcastically, “Have you been drinking the sacrament all night?”

Gawain’s mother is the sister of the king (played by Sean Harris), who rules over the kingdom with his queen wife (played Kate Dickie). Although these ruling royals do not have names in this movie, all indications are that the king is the legendary King Arthur. Gawain might have lived a carefree lifestyle as the nephew of a king, but that will soon change in this story.

On Christmas Day, the king, queen, the Knights of the Round Table (including Gawain) and other assorted people have gathered for a formal court meeting. The king summons Gawain to sit beside him on the throne and remarks that it’s the first time that he’s given this privileged invitation to Gawain. The king asks that Gawain give him a very specific Christmas gift: Gawain must tell a tale about himself.

No sooner does the king make this request when the Green Knight (played by Ralph Ineson) appears on horseback in the court. In this movie, the Green Knight doesn’t look completely human, but more like a cross between a human and a tree. The Green Knight, who tests the characters of men, has arrived to deliver a challenge.

The written message that the Green Knight delivers upon his arrival is read by the queen, and the voice that comes out of her mouth is a deep and eerie man’s voice, as if the Green Knight is reading it himself. It’s one of many spooky touches to the film that Lowery adds to ensure that viewers know that this isn’t a typical knight movie. Get used to seeing a lot of cinematography drenched in mist when watching “The Green Knight.”

The Green Knight’s challenge is simple but one that would strike fear in the heart of the average person. The Green Knight dares any knight to behead the Green Knight. And in return, the Green Knight will behead his killer exactly one year later, at the Green Knight’s Green Chapel. Gawain is the only person to voluntarily step forward and accept this challenge.

Why would anyone take this dare? The king whispers to Gawain, “Remember it’s only a game,” as he gives Gawain a sword to use for the beheading. The Green Knight lays down his axe in a sign of surrender. Gawain beheads the Green Knight, who gets up, picks up his own head, and then chuckles, “One year hence,” as he gallops away on his horse, leaving his axe behind.

The movie then fast-forwards to nearly a year later. Gawain is on a mission to find the Green Knight at the Green Chapel, where they agreed to meet for the promised beheading. Along the way, Gawain encounters various dangers and complications that could impede his journey. And all the while, viewers (even those who’ve read the book) will be wondering if Gawain really will be beheaded, or if his life will be spared if he sees the Green Knight again.

Gawain meets several new people in his travels, including a thieving, nameless scavenger (played by Barry Keoghan); a red-haired trauma victim in a long white nightgown named Winifred (played by Erin Kellyman); and a gregarious unnamed lord (played by Joel Edgerton) and his seductive wife Essel (played by Alicia Vikander), also described in the film credits as The Lay. An intelligent red fox ends up accompanying Gawain and becomes his companion for part of his trek.

The lord and his lady live in a castle with a mute, unnamed elderly woman, who is always blindfolded. (No explanation is given on who this woman is, and Gawain doesn’t ask.) The couple invites Gawain to spend the night in their home on December 21, just a few days before Gawain is supposed to make the Christmas deadline to meet up with the Green Knight. What happens in the home is a turning point in the movie, which makes some big changes from the original source material.

“The Green Knight” takes admirable risks in not following the conventional tropes found in movies about a knight on an adventure. There are no massive battleground scenes, no damsel in distress who’s the knight’s love interest, no kingdom whose leadership is in jeopardy. And although “The Green Knight” has many elements of a horror movie (including some bloody gore), the real fear in this movie is Gawain’s dread of holding up his end of the bargain. His integrity is at stake, as well as his life.

The movie has some strikingly haunting visuals that are times psychedelic. In a memorable sequence, Gawain encounters giant nude, androgynous people (who are the size of skyscrapers) while trying to find the Green Chapel. Gawain tries to talk to one of these giant people as they walk past him, but communication is difficult, and they can’t really understand each other. It’s a very hallucinogenic and effective scene.

“The Green Knight” also doesn’t shy away from references to brutality toward women, in an era where women were treated like property. When Gawain first meets Winifred, she mentions that a lord tried to rape her and beheaded her when she resisted. Gawain is initially confused because Winifred looks like a person who is alive, not a ghost. However, the way Winifred manifests herself in this story—whether she’s alive, dead or somewhere in between—is on her own terms, as if she’s taken back the power that was stolen from her.

Patel’s depiction of Gawain is as a flawed but well-intentioned hero. It’s an understated role where he rises to the occasion of expressing a wide range of emotions without distracting melodrama and while still portraying a character who must present a stoic demeanor to strangers. The other characters in “The Green Knight” are somewhat two-dimensional and/or have very limited screen time.

However, Edgerton’s portrayal of the lord and Vikander’s portrayal of his wife Essel are intriguing and make enough of an impact to suggest that this couple could easily have an entire movie about their lives together. But make no mistake: The humanity of “The Green Knight” resonates mostly because of Patel’s layered performance, which never lets viewers forget that Gawain is a human being who can falter, not as an unrealistic knight who will always put fear aside to rise to the occasion.

Some of the visuals in “The Green Knight” have themes of Christianity versus paganism, or humans versus the environment. Although there’s violence in the movie, it’s not gratuitous. Lowery is the type of filmmaker who takes his time in immersing viewers in the movie’s unique atmosphere instead of rushing from scene to scene and dialogue to dialogue. And there are no gimmicky jump scares.

Many other horror stories rely on the premise that murder victims don’t know when they’re going to die. “The Green Knight” skillfully presents a different type of horror: Someone who volunteered to die at a pre-determined date. Gawain spends most of this treacherous journey by himself, as he reflects on his own mortality, as well as his own morality.

In its clever way, “The Green Knight” is an artistically creative statement of how it’s human nature for people not to want to think about their own deaths. People who have to confront their own deaths usually have to face another fear: reflecting on their lives and holding themselves accountable for their misdeeds and mistakes.

A24 will release “The Green Knight” in U.S. cinemas on July 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Jungle Cruise,’ starring Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons and Paul Giamatti

July 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dwyane Johnson and Emily Blunt in “Jungle Cruise” (Photo by Frank Masi/Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

“Jungle Cruise”

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in 1912, in Brazil and England, the action-adventure film “Jungle Cruise” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American Asian and Latino) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A sassy researcher and her fussy botanist brother, who are both from England, enlist the help of a wisecracking American skipper of a ramshackle cruise boat to go to a Brazilian jungle to find a magical tree which has a petal with the power to save lives.

Culture Audience: “Jungle Cruise” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of any Disney adventure films, but might not hold much interest to people who’ve seen better family-friendly adventure films that take place mostly in a jungle.

Jack Whitehall, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson in “Jungle Cruise” (Photo by Frank Masi/Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

Overstuffed with generic villains and too rambling for its own good, “Jungle Cruise” offers nothing new or exciting to people who’ve seen higher-quality and more unique adventure films with a jungle at the center of the action. It’s a bland misfire that borrows heavily from 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and 1951’s “The African Queen.” Viewers already know how a movie like “Jungle Cruise” is going to end, so “Jungle Cruise” needed to have other elements to make it stand out from similar movies that have a wisecracking male hero and his adventurous love interest who wants to be treated as his equal. Unfortunately, “Jungle Cruise” is stuck in a rut of mediocrity that will make this movie forgettable soon after watching it.

At a total running time of 127 minutes, “Jungle Cruise” over-indulges in characters and scenes that weren’t needed for the movie. Children under the age of 8 and people with very short attention spans might get bored or irritated by the unnecessary convolutions to the plot, which just weigh the story down more than stagnant muck in a jungle swamp. Don’t be surprised if some parts of the movie will make you want to go to sleep.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Jungle Cruise” was written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa and Michael Green. The extraneous plot contrivances seem entirely designed to stretch out the movie’s running time, as if the writers were afraid that that sticking to a simple concept wouldn’t work. In addition, too many parts of the movie seem forced and very fake, such as the romance between the male and female protagonists.

There are also some heavy-handed references to sexism and feminism that are repeated to irksome levels, as if the “Jungle Cruise” filmmakers think viewers are too dimwitted to notice the first three times these same references are in the movie. A running commentary in “Jungle Cruise” is that some of the men can’t believe that the female protagonist is wearing pants. The male protagonist even starts calling her “Pants” as a nickname. It’s a tired joke that wears very thin quickly. And the “feminism” messages in “Jungle Cruise” come across as extremely phony when this movie’s cast members who get top billing are several men but only one woman.

“Jungle Cruise” takes place in 1912, but there are flashbacks throughout the story to previous centuries. The movie opens with a voiceover explanation about the ancient legend that serves as the catalyst for this story. (The musical score during this intro uses an instrumental version of Metallica’s 1991 ballad “Nothing Else Matters,” which is kind of distracting for viewers who know this song.)

In the Legend of the Tears of the Moon, a magical tree called Tears of the Moon exists in the Amazon jungle. This tree has a petal that can cure any illness and break any curse. Over centuries, many explorers sought to find this petal. One of these explorers was a Spanish conquistador from the 1500s named Don Lope de Aguirre (played by Edgar Ramírez), also known as Aguirre, who got injured during his exploration and was found by the guardians of the tree.

After these guardians nursed Aguirre back to health, he demanded that the guardians give him a sacred arrowhead, which is believed to be the key to finding the Tears of the Moon. Aguirre and his conquistadors attacked the guardians, and the jungle fought back. (And yes, there are predictable scenes of trees coming to life and using their branches to tie up people.) As a result, Aguirre was cursed and held captive by the jungle trees for eternity.

In London in 1912, botanist MacGregor Houghton (played by Jack Whitehall) is making a presentation pitch to an all-male group of high-society members in a museum lecture hall. He’s reading a speech from index cards that were written by his much-smarter sister Dr. Lily Houghton (played by Emily Blunt), a researcher who is watching nervously from the balcony. MacGregor wants to convince this group of elites that the Legend of the Tears of the Moon is real, so that they can invest in a trip that MacGregor and Lily want to take to the Amazon jungle to find this magical tree.

MacGregor is fairly unskilled at public speaking (or he didn’t take the time to rehearse his speech), because on the index cards, where Lily wrote in parentheses “pause for dramatic effect,” he actually reads out loud the words “pause for dramatic effect.” MacGregor’s speech is not well-received, to put it mildlly. He gets a resounding “no” from the group when requesting funding for the exploration trip.

As McGregor verbally flounders and gets flustered on stage, Lily sneaks off into an off-limits room to find the sacred arrowhead that supposedly will lead whoever possesses it to the Tears of the Moon tree. She pries open a crate, sees the arrowhead and steals it. But before Lily can leave undetected, she runs into a museum official named Sir James Hobbs-Coddington (played by Andy Nyman), a stern and greedy bureaucrat.

He’s about to secretly sell the arrowhead to a visiting German royal called Prince Joachim (played by Jesse Plemons), who sees that Lily has the arrowhead and demands that she hand it over. A predictable chase ensues in the room with some unrealistic choreography involving a ladder that leads to Lily hanging out of a window where she could fall and die. Prince Joachim has her cornered and tells Lily that if she hands over the arrowhead, he will rescue her.

Lily gives Prince Joachim a small box that she says has the arrowhead, but he pushes her off the building anyway. Just then, a double-decker bus with an open top drives by, and Lily lands in the bus. Inside the building, Prince Joachim sees that what’s inside the box isn’t the arrowhead but a duck-hunting decoy shaped like a toucan. Meanwhile, MacGregor gets kicked out of the lecture hall with perfect timing to be outside in the same place as Lily when she landed. MacGregor and Lily make their getaway on the bus. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

You know the rest: Lily and MacGregor find a boat navigator who can take them to the Porto Vehlo, Brazil, where their Amazon jungle adventure will begin. He’s a skipper named Frank Wolff (played by Dwayne Johnson), who makes a meager living as a tour guide to visitors on his run-down steamer boat La Quila. One of Frank’s identifying qualities is that he constantly likes to tell jokes with bad puns. People will either find it charming or annoying.

For example, while ferrying a group of unlucky tourists who have to listen to his bad jokes, Frank points out a pair of toucans and says, “Only two can play.” Frank’s “wink and nudge” tone is: “Get it? The words ‘two can’ rhyme with ‘toucan.'”

He tells another groan-inducing pun joke to the people on his boat: “I used to work in an orange juice factory, but I got canned. I couldn’t concentrate. Yeah, they put the squeeze on me too.” A young girl on the boat tour voices what a lot of viewers will be thinking about Frank and his cheesy jokes: “Make him stop!”

“Jungle Cruise” is very self-aware that the jokes are silly, but after a while it does get very tiresome and comes across as lazy screenwriting not to have anything else about Frank’s personality that’s memorable. In fact, one of the reasons why “Jungle Cruise” is so disappointing is that none of the characters in this movie has an outstanding personality. You know a movie is bad when it has three villains/antagonists, and they’re just watered-down versions of many other movie villains.

The most obvious villain is Prince Joachim, who spouts cliché lines and does everything a stereotypical villain does but twirl his moustache. Plemons struggles with having a believable German accent in this role. It’s like he’s trying to do a parody of a Christoph Waltz villain, but it doesn’t land very well because Prince Joachim’s dialogue is so witless. Prince Joachim doesn’t come across as cunning or dangerous as much as he comes across as a spoiled and stupid royal who wants his way.

Another villain is Aguirre, who shows up later in the movie. The “Jungle Cruise” filmmakers wouldn’t have taken all that time in the beginning of the movie to tell viewers who Aguirre is without him making an appearance. Aguirre could’ve had an interesting personality and story arc, but he mostly just growls his words and gets into fights.

A third villain, who’s in the movie for less than 10 minutes, is Nilo (played by Paul Giamatti, speaking in a questionable Italian accent), a rival riverboat tour operator who is after Frank for debts that Frank owes to Nilo. If Frank doesn’t pay up, Nilo will get Frank’s boat. Nilo is probably the movie’s most useless character that has a well-known actor in the role. Most people who see “Jungle Cruise” won’t remember who the Nilo character is and what he does for a living.

There’s a time-wasting sequence where Frank impersonates Nilo when he first meets Lily, who’s looking to hire a boat navigator. She soon finds out who the real Nilo is, so her first impression of Frank is that he’s a liar and a con artist. The expected bickering between Lily and Frank ensues, which we all know will eventually lead to them feeling romantically attracted to each other.

MacGregor is a high-maintenance dandy who’s upset that he can’t take many of his possessions—such as a large wardrobe of clothes and tennis rackets—with him on Frank’s boat. Frank’s way of dealing with this issue of MacGregor’s extra luggage is to throw away the luggage in the water. How rude. Later in the movie, it’s implied but not said directly, that MacGregor is a closeted gay man. MacGregor talks about how grateful he is that Lily is his sister, because she protects him from being persecuted.

Frank has a pet leopard named Proxima, which is introduced in the movie in a very dubious way: Frank has trained the leopard to scare people away in a restaurant. How is that supposed to be funny? The visual effects for this CGI leopard are not very convincing. It looks every inch like the computer-generated animal that it is.

In fact, all of the visual effects in “Jungle Cruise” are very ho-hum or look bogus enough to be distracting to the movie. The hair and makeup are overdone for Lily, who looks too polished in certain action scenes, where realistically her makeup would’ve sweated off of her face, and her hair would be lot more disheveled.

As for the “jungle adventure,” Frank, Lily and MacGregor have the predictable experiences with jungle tribes, as well as chase scenes with Prince Joachim and his henchmen. There’s also the “eccentric exotic person” who seems to be in every jungle movie. In “Jungle Cruise,” this character is a tribe leader named Trader Sam (played by Veronica Falcón), who becomes an ally to these adventurers. And there are more bad pun jokes from Frank.

But when it’s revealed that Frank has a secret identity, that makes the movie go off the rails. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Frank’s secret identity meant that he grew up in a country where English is not the primary language. However, Frank has a very American accent throughout the movie. This discrepancy can be explained by Frank living enough of his adult life in the U.S. that he now has an American accent.

But the movie’s tone gets a little too dark for a family film when Frank says that he wants to die. (And it’s not a joke.) It puts a weird damper on the rest of the “adventure,” because it’s an unnecessary death wish for the hero of the story to have, after it’s made obvious that he has romantic feelings for Lily. (And yes, they’ve already kissed each other at this point.) Apparently, no one told Frank that telling a potential lover that you want to die is not the way to romance someone.

Anyway, we all know that this “death wish” is a very manipulative part of the story just to create unnecessary drama. After all, why kill off the hero when there are potential “Jungle Cruise” sequels to be made? Do the filmmakers really think viewers are that stupid?

The chemistry between Johnson and Blunt isn’t convincing enough to make Frank and Lily look like they could be in a real long-lasting relationship. Sparring partners in arguments? Yes. But as romantic partners? No. “Jungle Cruise” tries very hard to make it look like Frank and Lily are a great couple. But after this trip is over, it’s hard to imagine that Frank and Lily would enjoy each other’s company and have a lot to talk about in their everyday lives.

In “Jungle Cruise,” Johnson and Blunt do versions of characters that they’ve already played in other movies. There’s nothing fresh or intriguing about their “Jungle Cruise” performances. Johnson just isn’t very good at portraying someone from an era that happened before he was born. The way he talks and his mannerisms are better suited for roles that take place in his contemporary time period.

Everything about “Jungle Cruise” (which is inspired by the Jungle Cruise theme park ride at Disneyland and Disney World) is supposed to be fun, original and adventurous. Instead, too much of it looks and sounds over-calculated and ripped off from other movies. (And the hackneyed “Jungle Cruise” musical score by James Newton Howard is overbearing at times.)

There’s a pivotal scene in “Jungle Cruise” where an entire jungle lights up in purple, but it looks like it was copied from a pivotal scene in Pixar’s 2017 Oscar-winning film “Coco.” Simply put: “Jungle Cruise” takes no bold or creative risks when it could have. “Jungle Cruise” is more like “Jungle Snooze.”

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Jungle Cruise” in U.S. cinemas and at a premium extra cost on Disney+ on July 30, 2021. 

Review: ‘Stillwater’ (2021), starring Matt Damon

July 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Matt Damon and Camille Cottin in “Stillwater” (Photo by Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

“Stillwater” (2021)

Directed by Tom McCarthy

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Marseille, France, and briefly in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the dramatic film “Stillwater” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Middle Eastern people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged oil rig/construction worker from Stillwater, Oklahoma, goes to Marseille, France, where he tries to prove that his mid-20s daughter has been wrongly imprisoned for murder.

Culture Audience: “Stillwater” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful and emotionally layered murder mysteries, even if some aspects of this crime investigation are far-fetched.

Abigail Breslin and Matt Damon in “Stillwater” (Photo by Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

“Stillwater” is a crime drama that’s somewhat flawed in how a murder mystery is investigated in the movie, but the principal cast members bring emotional authenticity that resonates in an impactful way throughout the story. It’s a movie about a man with a checkered past who’s seeking redemption not only for his imprisoned daughter but also redemption for himself for being an absentee father for most of her life. And on another level, it’s a classic “fish out of water” story about an American trying to navigate the legal system and culture in France when he knows next to nothing about either.

“Stillwater” writer/director Tom McCarthy won a best original screenplay Oscar for 2015’s “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s real-life investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the Catholic Church knowingly covering up these crimes. The crime investigation in “Stillwater” is much more personal and much more underground because it doesn’t always follow legal protocol, and is therefore much more dangerous. However, “Stillwater” (which McCarthy wrote with Thomas Bidegain, Marcus Hinchey and Noé Debré) is nowhere as authentic as “Spotlight,” when it comes to depicting a crime investigation.

In “Stillwater,” Bill Baker (played by Matt Damon) is a longtime oil rigger (also known as a roughneck) who has been experiencing some hard times in his hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma. Six months ago, he was laid off from his job. He’s been able to find temporary construction jobs here and there, but his lack of steady employment has caused him a lot of financial strain. Bill has been an oil rig worker, ever since he dropped out of high school to work with his father, who was also a roughneck.

Bill’s personal life is also a mess. He’s been a widower ever since his wife committed suicide a little more than 20 years ago, when their daughter Allison (played by Abigail Breslin) was 4 years old. After this tragedy, Allison was raised by her maternal grandmother Sharon (played by Deanna Dunagan), who has a cordial relationship with Bill. It’s in contrast to the estranged relationship that Bill has with his own mother, whom he hasn’t been in contact with for years. Bill only hears about how his mother is doing when Sharon tells him.

The movie never explains why Bill and his mother are estranged, but later on in the story, Bill reveals that he’s in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Now that Bill has more free time on his hands than when he was working full-time, he’s decided that he’s going to Marseille, France, for two weeks to try to solve the biggest problem he’s ever encountered: getting Allison exonerated for murder and released from prison.

Allison, who’s about 24 or 25, is in a Marseille prison and has served five years of a nine-year prison sentence for murdering her live-in lover Lena Momdi, who attended Marseille University with Allison. Going to the same university is how the former couple met. Lena is not shown in flashbacks, and whatever information about her in the movie comes mostly from Allison, who has vigorously maintained her innocence in Lena’s murder.

Why did Allison want to enroll in a university in France? It’s revealed later in the movie that she was very unhappy in Stillwater and wanted to live somewhere far away from her hometown. Lena, who was of Arabic heritage, had a very different background than Allison’s: Lena came from a stable, upper-middle-class family.

Allison’s and Lena’s personalities were different too. Allison is a creative type who likes to draw. She’s introverted and doesn’t make friends easily. Lena was more sociable and extroverted. It’s hinted throughout the movie that Lena was Allison’s first serious romance and the first relationship where Allison could live openly as a lesbian or queer woman.

The story comes out in bits and pieces in the movie, but these are the indisputable facts: In 2014, Lena was stabbed to death in the apartment that she shared with Allison, who doesn’t have an alibi during the time that investigators say that Lena was murdered. Allison claims that she came home to find Lena murdered. At the time, Lena and Allison were having problems in their relationship because Lena was cheating on Allison.

Allison says she doesn’t know who murdered Lena, but she has a theory that it was probably a guy in his 20s named Akim (played by Idir Azougli), whom Lena had recently met in a bar. Allison says she briefly met Akim too, but Allison doesn’t know anything about him except his first name, and she has a vague memory of what he looks like. Allison has told her father Bill that she found out that a female acquaintance had overheard Akim bragging about stabbing Lena.

That’s not enough to prove Allison’s innocence, but there was untested DNA at the crime scene. Allison thinks that the DNA is the DNA of the murderer and could be Akim’s, if Allison’s theory is correct. Bill then takes it upon himself to try get Allison’s case re-opened by finding the evidence that could exonerate her.

If this murder mystery sounds a lot like the real-life Amanda Knox case, that’s because “Stillwater” was partially inspired by Knox’s case, according to the “Stillwater” production notes. Knox was an American student attending a university in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, when she, her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and their acquaintance Rudy Guede were convicted of sexually assaulting and stabbing to death Knox’s British female roommate Meredith Kercher, who attended a different university in the same city. However, only Guede was directly tied to the crime through physical evidence (his bloody fingerprints), and Knox never wavered from proclaiming her innocence. The case was notorious for its twists and turns and worldwide media exposure.

Allison’s murder case in “Stillwater” also made a lot headlines, but the filmmakers wisely chose not to have flashbacks in this movie. That’s because the main characters in the story want to forget painful memories from their past. By the time that Bill visits Allison in prison, the media frenzy over Allison’s case has died down. And it seems that almost everyone involved, except Allison and her few family members, have given up hope that she will be exonerated and set free from prison.

While Bill is staying at a low-priced hotel, he notices the two people who are in the room next to his. He doesn’t find out who they are until a little later, but these hotel neighbors are theater actress Virginie (played by Camille Cottin) and her 8-year-old daughter Maya (played by Lilou Siauvaud), who is a bright and energetic child. Bill doesn’t know it yet, but all three of them will become part of each other’s lives in ways that they don’t expect.

The first time that Bill talks to Virginie, it’s because she’s partying on her room balcony with a friend. They’re laughing, drinking, and playing music loudly, so Bill asks them to keep the noise down. Virginie says that she only speaks French, and she has a dismissive tone toward Bill. A disgruntled Bill decides not to cause an argument and just shuts his room’s sliding glass door.

The next day, Bill sees that Maya has been locked out of the room and she doesn’t have a room key. Because he wants to make sure that Maya is safe, he takes her to the hotel lobby so that the front desk can give Maya a spare key. Virginie eventually shows up and she thanks Bill for his act of kindness. Bill notices that Virginie can speak perfect English. And when he points it out to her, Virginie looks embarrassed and makes a sheepish apology.

Virginie explains that the reason why Maya was accidentally locked out of the hotel room was because Virginie (who’s a single mother) was running late from an appointment for their new apartment. Virginie and Maya are staying at the hotel until they can move into their new home. Later, Virginie reveals to Bill that Maya’s father is alive but not in their lives, and that Virginie has been the only parent to raise Maya. Virginia describes Maya’s father as a “fling” who now lives in Crete.

Meanwhile, Allison doesn’t trust the prison mail system and knows all meetings and phone conversations in prison are recorded. And so, Allison has given Bill an important letter written in French that she wants him to hand-deliver to her defense attorney named Leparq (played by Anne Le Ny), to try to get the case re-opened. After encountering some obstacles, Bill gets an in-person meeting with Leparq, who reads the letter and says that there’s nothing more she can do because the case cannot be appealed without significant evidence.

A frustrated and angry Bill goes back to the hotel, where he asks Virginie to translate the letter for him. In the letter, Allison describes Akim as a likely person of interest who could be a match for the untested DNA that was at the crime scene. Allison also says in her letter that she doesn’t trust her father to help, even though he is her only family member who can be in France. (Allison’s grandmother Sharon, who wears an oxygen tube, has health issues and can’t travel overseas.)

As soon as Bill knows what the letter says, it’s at this point where viewers know he’s going to want to get back in Allison’s good graces. He meets with a local private investigator named Dirosa (played by Moussa Maaskri), but Bill can’t afford the investigator’s starting fee of €12,000. And so, that means Bill is going to do the investigating himself.

The first step is to find the witness who claims that she heard Akim confess to the murder. This witness can only speak French. Luckily, Viriginie is very sympathetic to Bill’s plight, and she readily agrees to be his translator. Things don’t go smoothly, of course, and Bill finds himself increasingly obsessed with finding Akim. Bill also gets personally involved with Virginie.

Although “Stillwater” does a very good job of unpeeling the layers of the story’s three complicated adults—Bill, Allison and Virginie—where the movie falters is in the almost absurd acts of vigilantism that Bill commits in the movie. His two immediate main goals are to find Akim and get Akim’s DNA. But since Bill doesn’t know Akim’s last name, and Allison can only give a vague description, there’s a time-consuming process of finding out if Akim really exists.

Akim really does exist. Bill finds him and stalks him. And there’s a scene in the movie where Bill has the perfect opportunity to get Akim’s DNA by taking a plastic straw and cup that Akim was drinking from and then discarded at an outdoor cafe. However, Bill doesn’t take the cup and straw as DNA evidence. Something else happens that takes this movie down a very dark path. Viewers will have to assume that Bill is so ignorant about the law that he doesn’t know that how evidence is gathered can affect whether or not the evidence is admissible in court.

“Stillwater” has many references to the cultural and social class differences of an American like Bill being in France. Bill has to correct people who incorrectly assume that because he’s American who has the ability to travel to France, he must be rich. In another scene, Virginie agrees to help Bill after she suspiciously asks him, “Did you vote for [Donald] Trump?”

Bill doesn’t say what his political leanings are and instead says he can’t vote in U.S. elections because he’s a convicted felon, although he doesn’t say why he was in prison and when. Virginie makes it clear that Bill’s prison record wouldn’t bother her as much as it would bother her if he voted for Trump. She hangs out with a lot of progressive hipster types in her theater group.

In another scene, Virginie and Bill have an argument when she helps him interview a local cafe owner who might have seen Akim. The cafe owner named Max (played by Pierre Piacentino) is very racist against Arabs and tells Virginie in French that he’s willing to accuse anyone Arab to help with the case. Virginie abruptly ends the interview in disgust and tells Bill why, but Bill is willing to overlook this racism because he thinks the cafe owner might still have valuable information.

Bill tells Virginie that he works with a lot of people who have these racists thoughts, but he believes you can still work with these people if they’re on your side. It’s the first of many clues that Bill is willing to do whatever it takes to free Allison from prison, even if it could mean getting a racist witness who will lie in order to wrongfully accuse someone. Virginie makes it clear that she has certain ethics that are non-negotiable. It won’t be the last time that Bill’s and Virginie’s two different moral codes will clash with each other.

An issue that “Stillwater” doesn’t adequately address is that Allison got only a nine-year prison sentence for murder. That’s an incredibly lenient sentence, considering that it was a brutal stabbing that appears to have been pre-meditated. It’s implied throughout the story that Allison was convicted of first-degree murder. It’s never discussed in the movie (although it should have been discussed) that Allison, who’s young enough to potentially have several decades of life ahead of her, was lucky to get such a light prison sentence for this serious crime.

No one says the words “white privilege” in this movie, but a lot of viewers who know that racial inequalities exist in criminal justice systems will immediately think about how a person of color in the same circumstances as Allison probably would’ve gotten a punishment that’s a lot worse and longer than a nine-year prison sentence. Likewise, Bill takes for granted and feels emboldened that as a white man traveling by himself, he can feel entitled to go in certain neighborhoods as a stranger and do whatever vigilante things that he does. It’s because he consciously or subconsciously knows that people are less likely to call the police on someone who looks like him when he acts aggressively or does suspicious things.

Allison already served five years of that nine-year prison sentence, so it raises more questions that the movie doesn’t answer about how Bill and Allison went about solving her legal problems. The legal process to get someone exonerated could take a lot more than four years. And it means that Allison could be released from prison in a shorter period of time than it could take for her to be exonerated.

That probability is never discussed in the movie, because “Stillwater” is all about Bill trying to get things done in an unrealistic “only in a movie” period of time. And yes, Bill and Allison want to clear Allison’s name. But at what cost, when Bill starts breaking the law like a vigilante?

It’s why “Stillwater,” even though it benefits from stirring performances by the principal cast members, still feels like a Hollywood version of how to free a prisoner who claims to be wrongly convicted. Usually, in melodramatic movies like “Stillwater,” someone is portrayed as a one-person juggernaut doing almost all the detective work. In reality, it takes several people and many years of investigations and court procedures to get a convicted prisoner exonerated.

In the production notes for “Stillwater,” McCarthy comments on some of the main inspirations for him to make the movie: “I was inspired by a number of Mediterranean Noir writers like Andrea Camilleri, Massimo Carlotto and Jean-Claude Izzo, whose brilliant Marseille Trilogy led me to the French city. One visit to Marseille and I knew that I found my port.”

And just like those novels, “Stillwater” is a fictional version of life. The movie is entertaining, suspenseful and a “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tale. However, “Stillwater” shouldn’t be used as an ideal example of a dramatic film that realistically portrays how to try to get someone out of prison.

Focus Features will release “Stillwater” in U.S. cinemas on July 30, 2021.

Review: ‘RK/RKAY,’ starring Rajat Kapoor, Mallika Sherawat, Kubbra Sait, Ranvir Shorey, Manu Rishi Chadha and Chandrachoor Rai

July 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rajat Kapoor in “RK/RKAY” (Photo courtesy of Outsider Pictures)

“RK/RKAY”

Directed by Rajat Kapoor

Hindi and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in an unnamed city in India, the comedy film “RK/RKAY” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After killing off the hero character in his most recent film, an independent filmmaker is frustrated and alarmed when the hero character takes on human form and infiltrates the filmmaker’s life to protest his on-screen death.

Culture Audience: “RK/RKAY” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Indian cinema that takes a satirical look at the art of filmmaking.

Mallika Sherawat in “RK/RKAY” (Photo courtesy of Outsider Pictures)

Although it can get a little too repetitive, the comedy film “RK/RKAY” offers a mostly breezy film-within-a-film story that parodies the cliché of “bringing a character to life.” This low-budget, independent Indian film can be considered a viable alternative to people who want to see something other than a typical Bollywood formula. Underneath the comedic antics is an effective portrait of someone going through a mid-life crisis who is afraid of becoming so irrelevant to everyone around him that he will eventually be “erased.”

Rajat Kapoor, a longtime independent filmmaker, is the writer, director and star of “RK/RKAY,” which was financed mainly through crowdfunding, after Kapoor got tired of getting rejections from potential investors to make this movie. In “RK/RKAY,” Kapoor plays two roles: (1) an independent filmmaker named RK, who has just starred in his recently completed movie (whose name is never revealed in “RK/RKAY”) that he wrote and directed and (2) Mahboob Alam, the hero character of RK’s movie.

The Mahboob character is a protagonist in a “Pink Panther”-type of comedic thriller movie that is set in the 1960s. Mahboob, who is 45 years old, has a moustache that’s very much like the type that Peter Sellers’ bumbling Inspector Clouseau character had in the “Pink Panther” films. By contrast, RK is clean-shaven and wears glasses.

RK thinks of himself as a suave intellectual, while Mahboob was created to be somewhat of a goofy character. RK writes and directs all of his films, so he’s very adamant about protecting his “artistic integrity.” RK gives the impression that he won’t take other people’s advice if they think something should be changed about his movies before the movies are completed.

To fully appreciate “RK/RKAY,” you should have a tolerance for very “meta” films. Anyone who gets easily confused by movie-within-a-movie films that are a wink and a nod to the filmmakers’ real-life experiences probably won’t enjoy “RK/RKAY” very much. The movie is a madcap whirlwind that taps into a nightmarish fear that some screenwriters might have but rarely dare to put into their work: What if a character created by the screenwriter became more popular than the writer?

In “RK/RKAY,” that fear becomes a reality for RK, whose has recently finished filming a movie where the hero Mahboob dies at the end because Mahboob was killed by the villain. RK is proud of the fact that he completed the film ahead of schedule (it was done in 36 days on a 40-day production schedule) and under budget. Toward the end of the film shoot, RK and the crew celebrated his birthday.

The film’s producer Goel Sahab (played by Manu Rishi Chadha) is fairly new to the movie industry. Goel’s main way to make money has been in the construction business. Goel expresses concerns to RK that the hero dies at the end of the movie. Goel asks RK later, “If the hero can’t stay in the film, why would the audience stay?”

Goel is also worried about the movie being in two languages (Hindi and English), because Goel thinks it will be too confusing to the “common man.” RK listen to Goel’s fears and assures this new film producer that he knows what he’s doing because he’s been making movies for years. But the issue about Mahboob getting killed will soon be a problem that no one involved in this movie can ignore.

As RK begins the stressful process of overseeing the film’s editing, in order to make the movie’s October 15 release, his workaholic ways seem to have taken a toll on his personal life. RK’s wife Seema (played by Kubbra Sait) and their son Vivan (played by Abishek Sharrma), who’s about 7 years old, were on the film set to visit RK on his birthday and were also at the on-set birthday party that the film crew had for RK.

The family members seemed to have a good time at the party. But on the ride back home that night, Seema and Vivan are emotionally distant from RK. Vivan tells RK that he doesn’t want to ever want to come back to the film set. RK accepts that decision. And later, when RK and Seema are getting ready to bed, she makes it clear that RK won’t be getting an intimate love for his birthday.

“Be nice,” RKAY says, “It’s my birthday.” Seema coldly replies, since it’s after midnight, “Your birthday’s over now. Why do you want to make this film?” RK responds, “I don’t know.” Seema than says with not much emotion, “Happy birthday.”

The iciness between RK and Seema seems to thaw somewhat when they have lunch together at a cafe, but RK has to cut the lunch short when he gets an emergency call from production assistant Namit (played Chandrachoor Rai), who is in a panic. All of the filmed footage with Mahboob is now missing. RK rushes to the editing room to find out what happened.

When he gets to the editing room, the film editor (played by Anhjeeet Deshpande) and producer Goel both confirm that the footage is missing. And members of the film crew also report something bizarre: Mahboob was seen as a real person leaving the film set. The movie shows that Mahboob hailed a taxi to go to a train station.

When Mahboob got to the train station, he couldn’t board it because the ticket he has is fake, because it was a ticket invented by RK. A dejected Mahboob stays at the train station until Namit tracks him down. It’s here that Mahboob reveals why he came to life and wanted to run away: Mahboob objects to being killed off in the movie, and he won’t come back to the film set until RK agrees to reshoot the film so that Mahboob can live.

The rest of the movie shows how Mahboob infiltrates RK’s life as a way to protest being killed off in the movie. Mahboob shows up at RK’s home and quickly endears himself to Mahboob’s wife Seema, son Vivan and daughter Rabia (played by Grace Girdhar), who’s about 9 years old. Mahboob cooks meals for the family, and predictably, RK starts to feel like an outsider.

Meanwhile, Mahboob charms producer Goel and other members of the film crew. It doesn’t take long for Mahboob to convince people to be on his side. And so, people involved in making the film try to persuade RK not to kill off the Mahboob character. Mahboob becomes more popular than RK with RK’s family and co-workers. And naturally, this doesn’t sit too well with RK, who feels very disrespected.

One day, when Mahboob is at RK’s house, RK tries to exert some of the power that he feels slipping away. RK shouts at Mahboob: “I gave birth to you!” Mahboob replies in a bid for sympathy: “I;m your child!” Soon after, RK mutters to Seema about himself: “What a failure you must be if even the characters you write don’t listen to you.”

Further complicating matters, in RK’s movie, Mahboob owed money to a crime lord named KN Singh (played by Ranvir Shorey), who is the movie’s chief villain. Shorey also has the role of the actor named Ranvir, who plays KN Singh in RK’s thriller movie. Because Mahboob has gone “missing” from the movie, KN Singh comes to life and goes on a manhunt to find Mahboob in the real world. “RK/RKAY” gets a little messy at this point, but RK has a devious motive for wanting Mahboob killed in the real world: RK doesn’t want to change the ending of his movie.

Will Mahboob die or survive? Will RK get the ending he wants? That question is answered in the movie, where the last 10 seconds of the film will reveal what really happened to conclude this story. It’s a plot twist that’s an example of how viewers need to see an entire movie in order to make a fully informed judgment about it.

Because “RK/RKAY” revolves around the RK and Mahboob characters played by Kapoor, much of the movie’s appeal has to do with his knack for making these two look-alike characters very distinct from each other. The other cast members are perfectly adequate in their roles, but Shorey’s performance as the villain KN Singh is a little too hammy and might annoy some viewers.

“RK/RKAY” is not a perfect movie. One of its biggest flaws is how underdevloped the female characters are There are only two women with significant speaking roles (both supporting roles), and they’re both sidelined as love interests who show only three types of emotions: angry, worried or loving. The aforementioned Sait, who portrays RK’s wife Seema, is one of the supporting female characters.

Mallika Sherawat has two roles: She plays Mahboob’s love interest Gulabo and the temperamental actress Neha, who plays Gulabo in RK’s movie. Gulabo is meek and passive and is mostly seen pining over Mahboob while she’s alone in her bedroom. It’s a very uninteresting, stereotypical role.

Neha has an opposite personality: She’s bossy and ill-tempered, but also presented in a shallow way. When Neha is on the set, and production assistant Namit reads her lines, she yells at him: “What’s wrong with you, asshole? You can’t even read from the script?”

Later, after the film shoot ends for the day, and Neha is ready to leave, she sees Namit and some other film crew members outside and says she’s sorry for the rude way that she talked earlier. Before she gets into her chauffeur-driven car, she tells the crew members that she’ll star their movie if they ever get the chance to make their own film. After Neha leaves, Namit jokes that the movie would be called “Death of a Witch.”

The scene with Neha acting like a diva from hell takes place near the beginning of “RK/RKAY.” But then, the character of Neha is never really given any significant screen time as herself again. (Her screen time playing lovesick Gulabo doesn’t count.) It will just make viewers wonder if other scenes with Neha were cut out of the film, because a character arc seems to have been introduced for Neha, but then is inexplicably left hanging.

“RK/RKAY” is definitely a movie where the men get the best dialogue and the most character development. As a comedy, it’s got some pacing and editing problems, with some parts of the film very manic, while others parts of the film repeating Mahboob’s presence in RK’s home until it becomes a bit monotonous. “RK/RKAY” is very much like being on a merry-go-round of meta filmmaking. Some people will want to get off of the ride, while others will want to stay and get as much enjoyment out of it as possible.

Outsider Pictures released “RK/RKAY” in select U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

True Crime Entertainment: What’s New This Week

The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.

Monday, July 26 – Sunday, August 1

TV/Streaming Services

All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.

Peacock’s docuseries “Dr. Death: The Undoctored Storypremieres on Thursday, July 29, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT.

Monday, July 26

“ATL Homicide: Inconvenient Truth”
“Incovenient Truth: Craig Porter” (Episode 309)
Monday, July 26, 9 p.m., TV One

“Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes”
“The Editors” (Episode 105) 
Monday, July 26, 9 p.m., HBO

“Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes”
“The Spy” (Episode 105) **Series Finale**
Monday, July 26, 9:30 p.m., HBO

“Betraying the Badge”
“To Protect and Serve the Mob” (Episode 102)
Monday, July 26, 10 p.m., Vice

“Reasonable Doubt”
“Deadhead” (Episode 403)
Monday, July 26 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Infamy: When Fame Turns Deadly”
“Murder on the Mic” (Episode 108)
Monday, July 26, 10 p.m., VH1

Tuesday, July 27

“Citizen P.I.”
“Sleuths Under Fire,” “Malibu Sniper,” “Emails From Death Row” (Episodes 101-103) **Series Premiere**
Tuesday, July 27, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT Discovery+

“Body Cam”
“Near Miss” (Episode 407)
Tuesday, July 27, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Wednesday, July 28

“Court Cam”
(Episode 405) 
Wednesday, July 28, 9 p.m., A&E

“Court Cam”
Shocking Fights 2″ (Episode 406)
Wednesday, July 28, 9:30 p.m., A&E

Thursday, July 29

“Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story” (Limited docuseries)
Thursday, July 29, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Peacock

“Dateline”
“Mystery on Sunset Drive”  
Thursday, July 29, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Sins of the City”
“Las Vegas” (Episode 112)
Thursday, July 29, 9 p.m., TV One

“Deadly Women”
“Ice Cold” (Episode 1407)
Thursday, July 29, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Friday, July 30

“20/20”
TBA
Friday, July 30, 9 p.m., ABC

Saturday, July 31

“Cold Justice”
“Unnatural Causes” (Episode 604)
Saturday, July 31, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Accident, Suicide or Murder?”
“The Pact” (Episode 310)
Saturday, July 31, 9 p.m., Oxygen

Sunday, August 1

“Betrayal at Attica” (Documentary film)
Sunday, August 1, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, HBO Max

“Snapped”
TBA
Sunday, August 1, 6 p.m., Oxygen

“Charmed to Death”
“A Life in Jeopardy” (Episode 102)
Sunday, August 1, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Evil Lives Here”
“Why Did I Let Him In?” (Episode 3001)
Saturday, August 1, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Forensic Files II”
“The Reunion” (Episode 207)
Sunday, August 1, 10 p.m., HLN

“Forensic Files II”
“The Orange Shorts” (Episode 206)
Sunday, August 1, 10:30 p.m., HLN

Movie Theaters and Home Video

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some movie theaters in the U.S. are closed until further notice. Some independent movie theaters that are physically closed are showing new movies online, as part of a “virtual cinema” program. 

“Enemies of the State”

Directed by Sonia Kennebeck

Release date: Friday, July 30 in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD

Description from IFC Films:

“Enemies of the State” is a documentary thriller that investigates the strange case of Matt DeHart, an alleged hacker and whistleblower, and his former Cold War spy parents who believe they are at the center of a government conspiracy and are ready to do anything to save their son from prison. This stranger-than-fiction story takes audiences on a wild ride of unexpected plot twists and bizarre discoveries in an artistic and cinematic documentary that blurs the line between reality and paranoia. With extraordinary access to all lead characters and key sources, this film presents many contradicting viewpoints as it attempts to solve a mystery that has kept attorneys, activists and journalists occupied for over a decade.

“Enemies of the State” is a timely and compelling media and legal case study, showing how conspiracies can be created, evolve, and then be perpetuated with the help of the internet and aided by lack of transparency by the government. At the same time, this film examines the transformation of a local criminal case to an international media story, and the trust – or blindness – of completely devoted parents who will protect their son, literally at all costs.

A powerful combination of investigative journalism and true crime story, “Enemies of the State” recreates dramatic events with the high production value and feel of a fiction film. The story is as twisted and complex as the Serial podcasts or Making a Murderer, with a beautiful and cinematic visual style comparable to The Imposter or The Thin Blue Line. Similar to these movies, “Enemies of the State” uses its unreliable narrators to play with the audience’s perception of reality, exposing the power of conviction and manipulation and the significance of seeking the truth.

“Sabaya”

Directed by Hogir Hiror

Release date: Friday, July 30 in select U.S. cinemas; expands to more theaters on Friday, August 6

Description from MTV Documentary Films:

Armed with just a mobile phone and a gun, Mahmud, Ziyad and other volunteers from the Yazidi Home Center risk their lives trying to save Yazidi women and girls being held by ISIS members as sabaya (sex slaves) in the most dangerous refugee camp in the Middle East, Al-Hol in Syria. Often accompanied by burka-clad female infiltrators and working mostly at night, they must act extremely quickly to avoid potential violence. In this visceral, often edge-of-your-seat film, we experience both the tense situation in the camp and the comfort of daily life at home, where Mahmud’s wife, Siham, and his mother, Zahra, lovingly help the traumatized girls shed off the black garments of an ideology that tolerates nothing but itself.

Radio/Podcasts

No new true crime podcast series premiering this week.

Events

Events listed here are not considered endorsements by this website. All ticket buyers with questions or concerns about the event should contact the event promoter or ticket seller directly.

All start times listed are local time, unless otherwise noted.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many in-person events in the U.S. have been cancelled or postponed if the event was expecting at least 50 people in the year 2021. Many events that would normally be in-person are now being held as virtual/online events.

No new true crime events this week.